During my vacation to the hot springs I lost my glasses in a waterfall and was blinded for much of the trip. Luckily, I wasn’t doing anything besides sitting in water, so I found the loss of acuity to be mostly unimportant. I wasn’t able to see anything about the people around me beyond their figure and color of clothing. I had conversations with some of these people and might have been aided by being able to see their body language. I was unable to make out what their faces were doing; this was somewhat disconcerting. They could have been celebrities, they could have been of different races. I wouldn’t have known. Apparently, after night fell, I was unknowingly sitting in an unlit pool where a threesome was being enacted only a few feet away from me. I would have liked to see it.
On the way home, I took the risk of driving. It turned out to be fine. Colorado is a place of very wide spaces and everything is far away. I found that my experience of the landscape was not drastically different from what it would have been if I could see perfectly. The American west is made of vast shapes and blended color. Very little is lost by removing the detail. The road stretches really far and when it turns, the turns are wide. I didn’t encounter problems until I reached Denver, where it was necessary that I read signs and attend to pedestrians walking in the street. Nature is forgiving of the ill-sighted. Most of what’s in it is far away anyway. Civilization on the other hand, with its signals and silent cues, is where keen vision is really needed. And off course, it is exactly this demand on the eye that causes it to strain and ruin itself.
It is not known why we develop nearsightedness. Most optometrists believe that there is nothing one can do to halt or reverse the distortions in the cornea that result in myopia or that there is anything in particular that causes it. Be that as it may, there are a lot of scientists who maintain that it has entirely to do with the modern necessity to examine things up close nearly all the time. Reading causes it. Being indoors causes it. Watching TV. Looking at street advertisements. They say that habitually forcing the eye to focus on objects that are shallow in the field of vision encourages the eye to grow abnormally. The cornea becomes elongated so as to lessen the strain on the eye as it struggles to focus on a thing up close. Scientists point to correlations between education and IQ and an increased occurrence of nearsightedness. It’s because nearsighted people tend to read. Myopia is incredibly rare in illiterate populations and in people who live in open nature. Apes, whose eyes are very much like ours, almost never show signs of nearsightedness. An experiment was conducted by a some monstrous scientists where a number of chimpanzees were restricted with a helmet and a shade over the face to look only at images and objects that were 15 inches away from their faces. After 72 days, most of the test subjects showed signs of myopia, despite its being very rare in chimps.
The gradual destruction of one’s vision over time is a relevant and poignant metaphor for what civilization does to human beings: the very act of conforming and submitting ourselves to its conventions is damaging and burdensome to us, and the toll that it takes on our senses and our minds is continually rendering us less capable of conforming and submitting.