The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

abundant melancholy

with one comment

Yo, you seeing what I’m seeing?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is representative of how such a scene would appear to a raccoon, a seal, a dolphin or just about any whale. It’s also likely how it appears to a human being who suffers from a condition called Achromatopsia (which there are several different forms of, some congenital and others acquired). Achromatopsia is the lack of any color vision whatsoever, with the entire visual experience of those afflicted rendered in shades of gray. While this can be considered “quite goth” and is somehow poetic – it’s a pretty serious vision disease.

“Normal” human eyes are meant to perceive color. The typical human eye can discern around one million colors, whereas the eye of an Achromatopsiac can only see about a hundred shades of gray.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The neurologist Oliver Sachs once pointed out that whereas there’s a frequency of reflected light which humans will agree upon as being “red,” or “blue,” there is no way to test whether or not we are all actually seeing the exact same thing. Is my “coca cola” red your “coca cola” or is it a little more “fire engine” or “cherry”?

Odds are they’re not, as we aren’t really “seeing” anything. The brain is creating the things we see based on the limited amount of the raw photonic data, as collected by the eyes, which it decides to process. You generally don’t notice how much dust there is in the air unless a shaft of sunlight illuminates, it causing the brain to “notice” the anomaly and render it visually. Essentially, brains compress collected light into a construct which jibes with what the other senses are telling it.

Is that an image of a cormorant? Nope, it’s a capture of the light which was bouncing around one day when a cormorant swam by, which our brains process and interpret using a chemical database of prior observations called memories. Looks like a cormorant, though.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A lot of the information passing through the optic nerve is actually jettisoned by the brain. We don’t perceive the higher and lower frequencies of light – infrared or ultraviolet. Some critters have traded the ability to see the mid range entirely to focus on these spectrums, like the bee. Invisible light isn’t just a song from Sting’s old band “The Police” and it’s always been something a humble narrator is intensely curious about.

There are specialist cameras out there – security and nighttime cameras use a set of near infrared LED emitters to pump out a bright stream of IR light which these cameras can visualize and record. There’s also UV and IR film stocks, as well as esoteric lens filters and all sorts of DIY equipment you can use for the task of seeing the unseeable. Long have I had my eye on a camera kit offered by Nikon which is intended for the use of Police forensics teams, as said device can operate in both IR and UV to aid in the capture of splattered bodily fluids at crime scenes. Unfortunately, the unit is quite expensive and you need to flash credentials when purchasing it.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 1, 2016 at 11:00 am

One Response

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  1. Lovely post, Mitch! My favorite line: “Looks like a cormorant, though.”

    Kenneth Furie

    March 1, 2016 at 3:22 pm


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