Did you know that visual processing is the only sense that requires participation by all four lobes of the human brain? There are statistics out there like “over fifty percent of brain function” is required for visual processing. Now, I have no idea if those are facts. I’m sure a neuroscientist could point out some critical nuances and a more firstrate philosopher than I might require a definition of sense. But, to the layman, much of our brain is either wired for sight or making meaning/memory from sight so, seeing is believing. More on that later.
A friend of mine recently passed along a video of Beau Miles, an Australian professor, who walked 90 km (55 miles) to work. I found the professor’s observations and reflections on the adventure instructive for my current contemplative state. Miles observes by walking that his vehicular commute does not afford him the opportunity to know where his “home lands” become his “commute lands.” I will think about that for some time. In another observation, he notes that his worldview has changed as a result of walking.
I cannot help but hear tones of Wendell Berry in the experience of Beau Miles. Berry would encourage the farmer to appropriate scale via the ability to walk his property and to see. He calls this the “eyes to acres” ratio.
I was particularly struck by Beau Miles’ blog entry on his walks to work. He describes the process of rescaling his sense of adventure and the “epic power of perception.” There is something affecting about reading this in text after having watched the video of his walk.
In almost every way, my sabbatical is about this very same reframing. I started chasing my tail several years ago because I convinced myself that the coming decade or two would require more financial resources than the previous two. This is the “admission” I refer to in a previous entry. The admission precipitated a cascade of conclusions. Let me recap for you: 1) I will need more money, 2) I need a different job (= more money), 3) I will not be able to be a full-time farmer (because I need more money). I’m not sure if the theme here is obvious but I’ll leave it hanging out there for now. To be fair, there are other circumstances that inform my years of wrestling beyond the financial. In very practical terms, aging families require more resources. But, understanding my fixation on financial concerns is illustrative to my point about seeing.
Commuting to work in a car passing the land, the people, the trash, and the undulating plots of the stories told in the relationship between all of those elements is akin to my financial fixation. Commuting to work in a car is aiming at a single point in space and time, the office. Commuting to work on foot is aiming at a principle, to see. Let me be clear that I am not making a moral argument with this distinction. That is to say, I am not equating the efficient, practical commute with bad while the less efficient, more adventurous commute is good. Both have value. The distinction is useful for understanding the power of perception, or the training of our affections.
Seeing is the precondition for aiming. We can train our eyes on any aim. I am particularly adept at justifying the target at which I have aimed. How then, do I choose a target? I must check and recheck my sight.
I want to revisit Beau Miles’ observation that his walking commute affected his worldview. In common conversation (at least in my very small social circle), ‘worldview’ is somewhat euphemistic for belief, even more specifically religious belief. The real gravitas here is not in how or what we see but in how we are affected by what we see. In other words, to view the world is to train my eyes to see. Training my sight is to be affected, otherwise I will not act.
If I do not act, I do not believe. If I am not affected, I do not see.
By what then, do I choose to be affected?