What We See on Zoom, Not Always What We ‘Visualize’
From The Desk of Dr Zelinsky
Zoom never looked so good.
That’s because the coronavirus pandemic has kept most of us under stay-at-home orders for weeks. So, we are fulfilling our desire for socialization by connecting – and reconnecting – with relatives, colleagues, current friends and, yes, old acquaintances virtually — via technology. In fact, some readers are likely going beyond the socializing aspects to resume dancing, music, even tennis and golf lessons; participate in business meetings; and take required school courses – all through Zoom.
But what’s important here is not so much what we “see” at any given time on Zoom video. Rather it is our ability to “visualize” and “process” what we are seeing and hearing in order to better understand. Mind-Eye Institute addresses this type of processing, which links previous memories with current visual inputs.
For instance, I recently “Zoom”ed with college friends, many of whom I had not seen in decades. We all had “hung out” together at the time, living in an old house on campus. Although we had known each other well then, our lives drifted apart. I certainly recall what my friends looked like in college, but some of them were not immediately recognizable to me on virtual video. We had all changed – some more than others. During our conversation, my mind had to realign itself by linking memories of them from college days with the realities of the present. Not all of us looked different – a couple of them appeared frozen in time and seemingly had not changed at all.
Visual processing is always using our experiences – past and present — to compare and contrast, thus enabling us to make sense of our environment and respond appropriately. We make decisions – and projections – on the basis of our understanding, and understanding comes from the visualization process, connecting current and past experiences.
Proofreaders use this all the time: comparing what is written with what is known. My grammar school friend who now lives in London makes my brain stop for an instant when I am reading her notes. Each time, she writes the word color as “colour” or behavior as “behaviour” in an email. I see the information, but it does not match with what my brain has memorized. That adaptation slows me down for an instant.
Another example of a visual skill is making logical sense out of what is seen. For instance,
Once I was in Danville, Illinois doing a juggling presentation for 5 and 6-year-olds. I asked each child to try tossing one beanbag, one time, from one hand to the other. Some had more developed coordination than others, but they could not do it. One child spoke up, saying, “You can do it (juggle) because you are a grownup,” which, of course, is true. However, that comment caused some of the children to surmise that, because their teacher also is a “grownup,” she could juggle, as well. But, of course, she could not. We develop our theories based on what we know. We are constantly linking new inputs with previous memories to interpret our surroundings and situations.
Eyesight and vision are completely different terms. Eyesight simply refers to seeing something. “Vision” is the ability to interpret what one is seeing. It is both an external and internal process, allowing us – externally – to judge and measure and – internally – to respond and make correct decisions. Visualization also helps us see the potential for the future. A toddler looking out a window during the COVID lockdown might “see” people walking. An adult looking out the same window might see the same people but be more aware of details, such as they are leaning forward and pulling their coats around them, indicating that it is cold and windy. The toddler would not use all the visual cues to come up with the same decision.
In more scientific terms, “visual processing” refers to the brain’s almost-instantaneous ability (in part, subconsciously) to take in external sensory signals (from eyesight, hearing, smell, taste and touch), meld them with a person’s internal sensory signals and then synthesize – process — the information, allowing a person to react and respond to his or her environment. When functioning normally, visual processing enables people to understand and interact appropriately to the world around them. When brain circuitry is disrupted due to injury or neurological disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder, people become confused about their surrounding environment and exhibit inappropriate reactions and responses to movement, sounds and light.
At the Mind-Eye Institute, we combat the symptoms of brain injury and neurological disorders and help redevelop – or initially develop – visual processing capabilities by using therapeutic eyeglasses and other methods. These “brain” glasses bend light in different ways across the retina, which is comprised of brain tissue and is part of the central nervous system. Light is the way in which the retina communicates with the brain, and the brain responds. The light is first converted into chemical signals, which then trigger electrical signals that propagate through nerves. In fact, the eye plays a critical role in routing information through multiple pathways to the brain’s cortex. Variance in light signals can create new brain signaling pathways that are uncorrupted by injury or disease or rebuild (or more often, circumvent) damaged ones, thereby enhancing a patient’s spatial awareness and perception.
Today’s optometrists are in position to be at the forefront of brain function and brain care by using eyeglasses to alter the various nervous systems. We are in an era of new science, providing us much more knowledge about the interconnections between mind and body. This information is enabling optometrists and other professionals to assess brain-injured patients and patients with learning difficulties or neurological disorders.
The typical eye examination, which involves blocking off a patient’s peripheral eyesight and then checking how well that person uses central eyesight to see high-contrast, stationary letters across a darkened room, is no longer sufficient in our world filled with moving targets. Such testing, significant when it was developed in the mid-1800s, is unable to address modern society’s demands for highly-functioning peripheral eyesight that allows a person to view rolling mobile phone screens, watch movie and video-game special effects and navigate busy traffic in cars with high-tech computer displays and GPS systems. Even special effects in movies is now shifting to work with artificial intelligence! The demand on eyesight (identifying non-moving letters) is no longer the only metric needed. The new demand is on processing moving targets, visual awareness and multitasking.
“Brain” glasses are not about achieving 20/20 clarity. Instead, they are designed to improve patient comfort by rewiring dysfunctions in peripheral retina signals. The intent is to resynchronize brain circuitry with systems, such as motor and sensory, thereby improving overall processing.
So, again, let’s leave 20/20 eye exams in the 20th century. In the meantime, “see” you on Zoom!
Deborah Zelinsky, O.D.
Founder, Executive Research Director
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