In keeping with my New Year’s Resolution regarding eyesight and visual processing, here are some further thoughts about seeing.

There’s a beautiful magazine I received in the mail today, as a complimentary copy for doctors’ reception rooms.  It’s called See, alternatively Seeing The Everyday, subtitled because in life nothing is really routine.

The magazine is content driven by submissions from its readers.  Take a look at the descriptions of content suitable for submission, and you’ll note that the publisher is focused on seeing as it pertains to relationships.  As in the cover photo above, even in this sense of seeing, or perhaps particularly in this aspect of seeing, we must learn to see.

That is why I’m continuing my resolve to do away with the failed distinctions between sight and vision.  Seeing magazine is another example of the public using the term “sight” in a way that we’ve been trying to use vision.  Nor is this merely semantics.  For as long as I can recall, we’ve been trying to insist that vision is something more encompassing than sight, yet in many instances the public uses the term seeing as the more encompassing term.  We may have it backwards, which is why our message hasn’t resonated with the public as well it should.

Our pieces of seeing, that is:  eyesight, accommodation, binocular vision, color vision, visual contrast, visual motion, visual perception, visual processing, visual attention, visual cognition and so forth, come together when we look at something to gain understanding.  Even looking at the Snellen Chart involves vision as part of how well we see, and seeing is a learned process.  With all due respect to A.M. Skeffington, one of our optometric pioneers, I am suggesting that the “emergent” process we should speak of isn’t vision; it is seeing.  The public has spoken, and it doesn’t speak of a sense called vision.

To reiterate, there is nothing to be gained by insisting that there’s a difference between eyesight and vision.  The public considers the terms to be synonymous.  The distinction the public is better positioned to understand is between eyesight and seeing.  Most eyecare focuses on the surface aspect of seeing known as eyesight.  That is what’s measured by Snellen charts.  We pick up where Snellen charts leave off, probing and developing the brain’s way of seeing.  The magazine’s editors got it right.

– Leonard J. Press, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO



4 thoughts on “SEEING

  1. Nice one Len. Now that you’ve discussed it, it makes sense that the term “seeing” does conjure up the aspects that behavioural optometrists have been trying to have others understand as “vision”. Vision is a thing, seeing is the action and fits nicely with Skeffington’s other actions words “centering”. Should we say “identifying” rather than identification. “Communicating” rather than Speech/Auditory or Language. A replacement for anti-gravity eludes me for the moment!


    Paul Graham

    • Thanks, Paul. I believe we should say identifying and communicating. Anti-gravity is orienting. It also more easily fits with “vision is motor” (i.e. more suitable to say seeing is motor).

  2. ‘seeing’ noun (also present participle) – the action of seeing someone or something.
    ‘vision’ noun – the neurobehavioural process of gathering and using what is seen. ‘Using’ here means not only the person using sight information in a conscious way, but also in the way that the visual system feeds into a number of other subconscious neural pathways to contribute to control and homeostasis.

    One can appreciate the use of ‘seeing’ in ‘Avatar’, as in “I see you” in a very personal way. It demonstrates the difference between sight and something more, but leans towards ‘vision’ in the sense that it suggests many of the ways in which sight integrates with other sensory modalities and allows to glean much information very quickly from our environment: Awareness of position in space, corporeal/somatosensory empathy through awareness of the configuration of limbs, links to emotion and memory, ties to language through observation of lips. All of these combine to allow use to appreciate others more intimately.

    I don’t disagree with your assertion that people are generally more aware of the extended meaning to ‘seeing’ as compared to ‘sight’, but there remains a greater difference between ‘seeing’ and ‘vision’ than simply verb vs noun. Namely, vision fairly includes notions not only of signal acquisition and processing (finding and looking at something, and knowing what it is), but also of the neurobehavioural links with other homeostatic and sensory systems.That aside, there is some utility to using ‘seeing’ as a descriptive term in describing the complexity of vision to people.

    In the end, I won’t throw ‘vision’ out, but will make more room for ‘seeing’.

  3. Understood, Charles. My point here is not to discard vision, but to stop trying to wedge the discussion about what sight isn’t and what vision is. We’ve been doing that for 80 years, and it hasn’t worked for the masses. We have similar issues with “eye exercises”, “lazy eye”, and alot of other terms that aren’t well-suited by strict definition, but are entrenched in the vernacular.

    So I’m very comfortable in referring to visual areas of the brain, rather than seeing areas of the brain. But again, the sense itself is the sense of “sight”, not of vision.

    A trigger for me to re-consider terminology is Frisby’s wonderful second edition of Seeing:

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