The experience of seeing

from PiecesofFive-dot-uk copyright Five Cram

In the everyday view of seeing, I look through two holes in my skull, at what is in front of me. The scientific description of seeing with which we are familiar is that light strikes objects and enters my eyes, electrical signals go to my brain and somehow create there a mental representation of what is in front of me.

But what is the actual experience of seeing? The sensation is not one of me-looking-at-objects, rather it is of ‘object-space without me in it’.

Our headless visual experience - as pointed out by Douglas Harding

Even if that object-space includes the appearance of my legs, those objects are not the me-who-is-looking, they are part of the object (body) this looking-me says belongs to it. We don’t experience being a body-which-is-looking, we just experience the seeing – and assume ourselves to be a me-who-is-experiencing-this. (We experience feeling sensations but we don’t feel seeing.)

We actually experience object-space, that is, space defined by the presence of objects, and we assume in our thinking that this represents me (on the margin of this space) looking at objects in the space. Can we notice this assumption and get back to a fresh un-thought direct experience of seeing?

See also Direct Experience of Sounds

3 thoughts on “The experience of seeing

  1. Hmm, Ive thought about this a lot in the past, in relation to my daughter Pema, who was severely visually impaired. Ive wondered how she experienced a sense of self in relation to vision when cortical VI meant that her brain did not make any sense of the information that came through ie the mental representation you speak of didn’t happen. Of course she relied on her other sense, sound and touch primarily . So Ive been considering what is the difference then between experiencing seeing ( and forming the sense of a self separate from the object ) and experiencing touch or sound and still having that separation and reinforcement of separate self . Ive also thought about this in terms of being a visual artist who looks at colour shape light sometimes without making any ‘sense ‘ of them . You say we don’t ‘feel ‘ seeing , but maybe we can


    1. Interesting, thank you. Having no concept of what you see as it being objects, you would develop no sense of being a self separate from them. So, as you say, you might experience non-dual seeing, or you still might see it as an experience “you” are having, since a sense of self could arise from other senses.
      The root is to look for a “you” that is experiencing any and every sensory perception – it is not in the sense perception, it’s in the way you conceptualise it.


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