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I Can See
I had to buy some new glasses last week which always leads me to my favorite thought experiment/question that I get to ask myself when it comes time to get a new pair of the miracle that Giordano da Pisa gave us:
How does a blind man pick his sunglasses?
I have no idea. I suppose he asks his friends, but as far as he knows, he’s wearing sausages shaped into antlers on his head.
In any case, how exactly has myopia managed to survive as a fault of human genetics? Let’s ponder this oddity.
First, there is the nature vs. nurture debate. Is myopia caused by something we do during our lives or are we genetically predisposed to the debilitation. As with everything, the answer that science and medicine seem to provide is “we don’t know so it appears to be both”, which might as well not be an answer.
It’s always amazing to see how science might provide more structure than religion, but many fewer answers.
In any case, let’s examine this situation from a natural selection perspective. Any genetic predisposition to myopia should have been bred out of our species, oh, several million years ago. Yes, million. Why? Because if you can’t fucking see the tiger running at you, you sure as hell can’t run away from said tiger and you’ll get killed and eaten along with your sub-optimal genes.
That’s how natural selection works.
People always seem to forget that in order for natural selection to function, death must occur prior to procreation.
As a lifelong practitioner of the optimization of inefficient complex systems, natural selection makes total sense to me. But for the life of me, I have never been able to postulate a legitimate reason for why myopia would have remained in our gene pool. It’s such a common mutation that would clearly cause deadly problems. It always manifests itself at an early age and directly impacts the survival probability of the person in question and thus that person’s procreation abilities.
But as Francisco d'Anconia said in The Book, “check your premises.”
So what if myopia didn’t lead to death? What does that say? If you assume that the generalized concept of our hunter/gatherer society is correct, where men were out hunting and women were foraging for food, managing the family, and shopping for drapes all day in Cave And Barrel, then what were the relatively blind people doing? They weren’t hunting, gathering, or shopping. But apparently somehow they were fucking.
See, I have a theory. I am blind. Well, nearly blind. I have a -7.50 strength prescription in both eyes. For those of you keeping track, that’s approximately 20/800 vision. Without glasses or contacts, I can only focus on things about 2.5 inches away from my eyes. I can only keep one eye open when I do this as you cannot even cross your eyes that far. My depth of field is incredibly tiny, maybe less than a quarter of an inch. I basically have microscopes for eyes.
So what advantage would this sight give me in our hunter / gatherer times? I was pondering some drapes the other day in the back of an Uber when I started getting a headache…because fuck drapes. I took my glasses off and rubbed my eyes. I leaned my head back and opened blind eyes. A most amazing miracle happened. The world was completely out of focus in a moving vehicle. The whole of downtown San Francisco was whizzing by without my ability to see or focus on anything. It was like putting ear protection on your eyes.
Rather than immediately put back on my glasses in fear, I ran with this new experience for the entire ride.
It was glorious.
Light shimmering from windows. Entire mobs of people moving as a single amorphous blob. Losing myself entirely with no sense of location or direction. I felt free, disconnected, and lost in the world. It was total sensory deprivation, all available at my very fingertips.
I’ve started having conversations with my glasses off. People stated that apart from looking them directly in the middle of their face (I can’t focus on their eyes), they said I act like a blind man. In my experience, it has forced me to basically turn off any kind of visual processing whatsoever. While awake.
The state of consciousness that happens is quite beautiful. While a bit unnerving, to consciously decide to stay out of visual focus actually lets you concentrate on other things, like deep thought or conversation. Turning off your eyes is actually a super-power, giving you the capability of drowning out all of the visual noise and giving your brain a break and/or the ability to re-purpose itself away from visual processing into deeper thought.
So what did people with myopia do in cave times? My guess is that they were the thinkers and leaders of their own time. Which may lend some credence to the nerd with the glasses stereotype of our own time.
I think myopia survived, flourished even given its incredible dominance in society, because it forced many of our cave dwelling ancestors to stay inside and think, pondering great questions and inventing things such as the wheel and everything that has come since. Hunters would never have time to do such things since their concern would be food. Thinkers would be necessary for a society to function, and I believe that those with myopia are genetically predisposed to be those very people.
I bet they would wear sausages shaped like antlers on their heads if they could.