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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