Psychologists were "shocked by the results" when they discovered that many adults think something leaves our eyes when we look at an object. This extramission theory of vision is described by Jeff Grabmeier in an easy-to-read overview of research done by Gerald Winer and his colleagues, who explain why people hold onto this misunderstanding.
Other articles about the misconception of extramission-vision are below, following my explanation of its role in producing a second misunderstanding.
The scientific misconception of extramission-vision has helped produce a metaphysical misconception about
the meaning of "observation" in quantum physics, and the possibility
of “creating your own reality,” as explained in Quantum
Physics, New Age Religion, and Schrodinger's Cat.
In the four paragraphs below — which follow an introduction explaining that "oops, they used a bad word" when scientists who were developing Quantum Physics used the term observation (which unfortunately leads to confusion and misconceptions) instead of interaction (a word that is more scientifically accurate) — I describe the metaphysical misconception and why, despite misleading claims by its proponents, the speculative metaphysics is NOT supported by scientific physics:
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 also may 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 takes you to another part of my page about foolish quantum flapdoodle, 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.
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.
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