[image: image]

When peripheral vision is being explained, an image like the one on the 
right is often used to show how only a small area around our point of focus 
is in high definition. The periphery is shown to be blurry. While this gets 
the point across, I think that it actually obscures the deeper nature of 

If I focus on some quadrant of the image on the left, while it is true that 
my visual experience of the other quadrants is diminished, it is somehow 
less available experientially rather than degraded visually. At all times I 
can clearly tell the difference between the quality of left image and the 
right blur. If peripheral vision were a blur, I would expect that the 
unfocused boxes on the left would look more like the one on the right, but 
it doesn’t. I can see that the periphery of the left image is not 
especially blurry, even though I can’t count the number of blocks or dots 
that are there, I can see that the blurry image is completely different.

By contrast, if I look directly at any part of the blurry image on the 
right I can easily count the blurry blobs when I look at them, even through 
they are quite blurred. What I think this shows are two different types of 
information entropy – one public and quantitative, and one private and 

Peripheral vision is not a lossy compression in any aesthetic sense. There 
is an attenuation of optical acuity, but not in a way which diminishes the 
richness of the visual textures. There is uncertainty but only in a 
top-down way. We still have a clear picture of the image as a whole, but 
the parts which we aren’t looking at directly are seen as in a dream – 
distinct but generic and psychologically slippery.

If perception were really driven by bottom up processing exclusively, we 
should be able to reproduce the effect of peripheral vision in an image 
literally, but we can’t. The best we can do is present this 
focused-in-the-center, blurry everywhere else kind of image which 
figuratively suggests peripheral vision, but it is not the same thing. The 
capacity to see is more than a detection of optical information, and it is 
not a projection of a digital simulation (otherwise we would be able to 
produce it in an image). Seeing is the visual quality of attention, not a 
quantity of data. It is not only a functional mechanism to acquire data, it 
is more importantly an aesthetic experience.

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