A few days ago I had the opportunity to drive out to Western Massachusetts and visit “Stereo Sue” the acclaimed neuroscientist and author of Fixing My Gaze. (see: www.fixingmygaze.com and www.stereosue.com ) I wheeled in a box full of my photographs and we immediately jumped into a quick viewing session which was full of gasps and wonderment. She was full of comments like: “Look at how the dogs mouth sticks out of the photograph…” and “It looks like I can reach in and grab that…” I could tell she was really enjoying my photographs and that was especially gratifying. She later emailed me that it was the highlight of her week.
After viewing my photographs we began discussing her personal journey of learning to see with stereopsis. She showed me various devices she used in her own vision therapy. One was a very interesting glasses-like device with prisms. The visual field of one eye is shifted upward and the visual field of the other eye is shifted downward so that you see the world displaced with two separate and unique perspectives. I experienced one eye becoming dominant and then the other eye. Indeed, when looking at a pencil and pressing it against an object the perception was creepy in that I wasn’t sure which eye was seeing the “real” pencil. Seeing two views of the world instead of a single merged image with depth provides insight into just how significant the brain is in terms of how we perceive the world around us. We talked about how people without stereopsis see things reflected in a mirror as being on the surface of the mirror. Before she acquired stereo vision, Sue said she had no concept of being able to see into a mirror. Despite numerous literary references to “through the looking glass” and other descriptive information it wasn’t until she acquired stereo vision as an adult that she had any idea of what looking into a mirror could be like.
As we talked it became very clear to me that deep emotion is closely linked with the ability to see with stereo vision. As she described learning to see the world with depth, her passion and joy was effervescent. While I have always felt I knew the significance of seeing in 3D, I can say that before reading her book and meeting and speaking with her that I did not fully appreciate the significance of stereo vision. As the discussion progressed we talked about how we perceive a single perspective photograph and how that compares to a life size multi perspective photograph. She felt it very plausible that brain imaging would show a dramatic difference between these two types of visual stimuli. The anecdotal evidence is there in terms of how people respond to multi perspective photographs.
Sue provided me with lecture notes and articles from acclaimed optometrist and vision therapy pioneer Dr. Frederick Brock. This is proving to be fascinating reading and I am learning a great deal. It is evident that Brock’s research, while meant to be written in the context of providing therapy to cross-eyed or walleyed patients is much more with very interesting anecdotal notes and telling observations. One such observation was when a girl, just learning to see with stereo vision, was shown a stereo card for the first time with a photo of an animal. She replied that that photo was “real” as compared to the other pictures which were not stereo.
Considering the human preference for looking at faces I plan over the next few weeks to begin experimenting with autostereoscopic photographs to determine how multi-perspective photographs compare to single perspective photographs. Specifically, I want to gather statistical data on memory and how it is effected by different kinds of image presentation. My belief, based on anecdotal evidence is that there will be a significant difference and I want to understand the pros and cons of that as it might relate to educational materials, advertising materials and so forth.