ALAN WATTS AND PERIPHERAL VISION
Alan Watts only considered peripheral vision objectively, from a focused perspective and understanding of life. He uses it as an analogy. Astounding how close he gets to describing it, especially its quality of "nongraspingness", without ever actually using it.
Watts, Alan, (1915–1973).
The way of Zen
Originally published: New York: Pantheon, 1957.
Page 8: Life itself does not proceed in this cumbersome, linear fashion, and our own organisms could hardly live for a moment if they had to control themselves by taking thought of every breath, every beat of the heart, and every neural impulse. But if we are to find some explanation for this characteristic of thought, the sense of sight offers a suggestive analogy. For we have two types of vision–central and peripheral, not unlike the spotlight and the floodlight. Central vision is used for accurate work like reading, in which our eyes are focused on one small area after another like spotlights. Peripheral vision is less conscious, less bright than the intense ray of the spotlight. We use it for seeing at night, and for taking "subconscious" notice of objects and movements not in the direct line of central vision. Unlike the spotlight, it can take in very many things at a time.
There is, then, an analogy–and perhaps more than mere analogy– between central vision and conscious, one-at-a-time thinking, and between peripheral vision and the rather mysterious process which enables us to regulate the incredible complexity of our bodies without thinking at all.
Page 9: For some reason we do not trust and do not fully use the "peripheral vision" of our minds. We learn music, for example, by restricting the whole range of tone and rhythm to a notation of fixed tonal and rhythmic intervals–a notation which is incapable of representing Oriental music. But the Oriental musician has a rough notation which he uses only as a reminder of a melody. He learns music, not by reading notes, but by listening to the performance of a teacher, getting the "feel" of it, and copying him, and this enables him to acquire rhythmic and tonal sophistications matched only by those Western jazz artists who use the same approach.
We are not suggesting that Westerners simply do not use the "peripheral mind." Being human, we use it all the time, and every artist, every workman, every athlete calls into play some special development of its powers. But it is not academically and philosophically respectable. We have hardly begun to realize its possibilities, and it seldom, if ever, occurs to us that one of its most important uses is for that "knowledge of reality" which we try to attain by the cumbersome calculations of theology, metaphysics, and logical inference.
Page 15: By far the greater part of our important decisions depend upon “hunch”– in other words, upon the "peripheral vision" of the mind. Thus the reliability of our decisions rests ultimately upon our ability to "feel" the situation, upon the degree to which this "peripheral vision" has been developed.
Page 15: For experience in making decisions by intuition might well show that this “peripheral” aspect of the mind works best when we do not try to interfere with it, when we trust it to work by itself–tzu-jan, spontaneously, "self-so."
Page 19: To return to the illustration of eyesight, the peripheral vision works most effectively–as in the dark–when we see out of the corners of the eyes, and do not look at things directly. Similarly, when we need to see the details of a distant object, such as a clock, the eyes must be relaxed, not staring, not trying to see.
Page 19: But when we have learned to put excessive reliance upon central vision, upon the sharp spotlight of the eyes and mind, we cannot regain the powers of peripheral vision unless the sharp and staring kind of sight is first relaxed. The mental or psychological equivalent of this is the special kind of stupidity to which Lao-tzu and Chuangtzu so often refer. It is not simply calmness of mind, but “nongraspingness” of mind.
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