Extramission Theory of Vision

is a Misconception about Vision

Does something leave our eyes during vision? (many adults say "yes") is a good overview of the extramission theory of vision, along with psychological reasons for why people hold onto this misconception;  written by Jeff Grabmeier, describing the research-based ideas of Gerald Winer and his colleagues.

This vision misconception has helped produce a metaphysical misconception about the meaning of "observation" in quantum physics, and about the possibility of "creating your own reality," as explained in Quantum Physics, New Age Religion, and Schrodinger's CatHere are four relevant paragraphs, which follow an introduction explaining that "oops, they used a bad word" when they focused their attention on observation (which is misleading and causes many misconceptions) instead of interaction (which is a more accurate word).
      visual observation is passive:  Most people think that seeing involves emissions from the eye, but this is a false belief.  When you see, you do not "send something out" from your eyes.  Instead, you see an object because light-photons move away from the object and into your eyes.  Your mind is actively involved with processing and interpreting what you see, but the physical flow of matter/energy (and associated information) is in one direction, from an external event into your eyes and mind, so an event is not affected when you observe it.   Here are three examples:
      • When you look at a tree, does your "act of observation" affect the tree?  No.  You see the tree because light-photons move from the tree to your eyes, but nothing moves from your eyes to the tree.  Your passive observation is not the active interaction described in the Uncertainty Principle.  If you shine a flashlight on the tree so you can see it more clearly, the light-photons will affect electrons in the tree's atoms, but nothing you have done as a person (except pressing the flashlight button, which could be done by a trained dog or mechanical robot) has affected the tree. ..... [•• two quantum-related examples follow] .....
      Loose language causes confusion.  Unfortunately, confusion is common in quantum physics interpretations because "observation" is a term overpopulated with meanings, since it can mean:  physical interaction (when wave-particles interact), human active intervention (by designing and doing an experiment), human passive observation (to take information in through the senses) and human consciousness (to process this incoming information).  All scientists agree that (as explained in Section 3C) the first two meanings play an important role in quantum experiments, and (as explained above) that passive observation is irrelevant;  almost all scientists think that human consciousness does not play any role in quantum phenomena and experiments.
      Unfortunately, authors can confuse readers by shifting from one meaning to another, and by taking advantage of the common misconception (which the author may also believe?) that the process of human vision produces an interaction with the object being observed.  This mistaken belief in an extramission theory of vision is surprisingly common, and in recent studies "at least one-third of college students — and maybe more — wrongly believe that something such as rays or waves go out of the eyes during the act of seeing."  But this misconception about vision is raised to a new level of error in a Mystical Physics claim that when rays "go out of the eyes" they can time-travel back two weeks, as in a Time-Delayed Schrodinger's Cat Experiment.  [note: In this paragraph the second link doesn't work because it's an internal same-page link, taking you to another part of the page where the "time-delayed mental experiment with the cat" is described.]

And here are web-pages about the misconception of extramission vision:

Student Misconceptions in the Psychology Classroom — read the first two paragraphs — by Stephen L. Chew (Samford University), written for The Society for the Teaching of Psychology (2004);  also available in RTF (word) or PDF by searching for "chew" in this links-page along with other fascinating articles from 2004, and if you like these you can search through essays from other years.

The misconception of extramission vision can be reinforced by the psychological effects of feeling that you're "being stared at" because if you're feeling threatened (or flattered,...) isn't it logical that the person who is staring is "doing something to you" instead of thinking "it's all happening inside my head"?  If you're curious you can find the original paper(s) by Rupert Sheldrake, but I think it's best to begin with a commentary on Sheldrake by Susan Blackmore.

The persistence of a misconception about vision after educational interventions — this is a one-paragraph abstract — by Gregg VR, Winer GA, Cottrell JE, Hedman KE, Fournier JS. (Dept of Psychology, Ohio State University) published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (2001)
Fundamentally misunderstanding visual perception : Adults' belief in visual emissions — also an abstract — by WINER Gerald A. ; COTTRELL Jane E. ; GREGG Virginia ; FOURNIER Jody S. ; BICA Lori A. (Dept of Psychology, Ohio State University) published in The American Psychologist (2002)

To find more information, do web searches for [extramission vision theory misconception] and similar search-string variations.
 




 
This page is
http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/views/extramission.htm

Copyright © 2007 by Craig Rusbult
all rights reserved

SEARCH THE WEBSITE