Visual Distortions

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 2 of 17 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: How was that for you? Any interesting reports? You look happy.

Student: Yeah. I feel good. I feel present in my body.

CTT: Good.

Student: I noticed that when I was doing it with my eyes closed the first time, I heard somebody a couple times say what they were feeling, and it made my mind go to that same place in my body, and it did that. It really did feel like the strongest sensation; like, one time, somebody said their forehead was hot, and then I went there. And it was interesting.

CTT: Now it makes you wonder how much of that happens in everyday life without you being aware of it. Whatever the people around you are talking about or describing, it’s creating a similar experiential reality inside your own body. Which then, of course, leads to big questions about what kind of company do you want to keep!


Now one other thing first, it’s also good to be able to notice this kind of thing when you’re a psychotherapist. Because sometimes by having feelings induced in your body by what your client is talking about, you may be getting a more accurate, more complete picture of what they’re really experiencing. That is, of course, if you can really practice mindfulness and equanimity toward these things.

If instead, what they say kind of triggers off your own stories, then you may have very rich experiences that you might think have to do with the client, but it’s really that one of your own buttons got pushed and is leading you astray on that. That’s why it’s important to learn to get more and more sensitive to what you’re feeling moment by moment, and to practice it with equanimity.

Student: I was going to say that I felt your presence [the speaker’s partner’s presence] as if there was a bubble around you that moved closer to me. It’s almost like the sensation of just wanting to push me. When both my and my partner’s eyes were closed I could feel the presence there. So my guess is that I was sensing a little receptivity in that I didn’t feel a pushing-back presence in front of me when just my eyes were closed, and yet when both of our eyes were closed, there seemed to be a balance. I could tell where he was in front of me, and I thought that was very amusing.

CTT: I talked the first day, when giving a kind of overall theoretical model for mindfulness, about the fact that we live in a virtual reality, not a computer-generated virtual reality like we can set up outside of us with special equipment, but a biological-psychological virtual reality. It’s as if at every instant, part of your mind, or part of your brain, or both – whether or not you want to draw a distinction between them – is creating a model of the world around you, your place in it, and updating it with current events.

For instance, how many of you have noticed that the part of the room right in front of your eyes is clear, and the rest of it is all blurry? You think I’m putting you on? The reason I’m saying that is that physiological and psychological studies show that our area of actual sharp vision is really very small. I forget exactly what it is, but it’s like the size of a quarter held at this distance (holds arm out). This little bit is in sharp focus, and the rest is all much duller, just due to the physiological nature of the eye.

But we don’t experience it that way. We don’t experience a sharp little circle here and a lot of fuzziness all around it. That’s because our world generation process – the virtual reality that’s generated by our mind and brain – is generating a clear world. Why should you bother to generate a dull world?

So yes, you can feel these presences because your mind is building the map and constantly updating the map. Now, it does its best job when it has actual sensory input to guide it. So knowing you’re there, an acoustic sense of your presence there, or a touch sense, is very accurate because I just saw you. If I spun around a few times, it might get less accurate, but it could still be pretty accurate. We can use our other senses to help update that map pretty well.

Student: I did some study on that subject, and on the periphery.

CTT: If I got it right, it’s about the size of a quarter?

Student: [ These numbers add up right, go with the general principle] Basically you have about a hundred to a hundred twenty five million rods and cones in your eye, and that has to be reduced in each eye to about one and a quarter million, so how do you get that – whatever – the one to, let’s say, 1,000 reduction. In the center of your eye, your eyes have built up with these receptive fields; in the periphery, there is as many as 150 sensors, rods, and cones that make up this receptive field and in the macular center position, it’s pretty much one to one.

I’ve got photo at home in a book, if anyone’s interested, that shows a letter that’s in the center – it shows what you can see, and how big the letter would have to be for your peripheral vision to be able to see it. And it’s amazing to see these little tiny letters in the center, compared with letters that are literally a half inch tall in the periphery.

CTT: Could you e-mail that around?

Student: I will make a copy of it and do that.

CTT: Yeah. That sounds really interesting. And yet, it varies with your own experience. That’s not the way we experience the world, but that’s the way our best understandings of the world as a presence tells us it actually is.


  1. Dr Tart, I have a question about meditation. I’ve been trying to meditate more consistently. I’m not always good about it because when things are going well, I get lazy, and then when things are more challenging, I meditate like crazy to try and make up for lost time. But I’m getting better about it. Even if I don’t have a lot of time, I at least sit still and enjoy the quiet for a few minutes each day.

    On Friday when I was meditating, the TV turned on by itself. I know that sounds nuts, but stuff does that around here. That’s why I meditate, so I won’t cry when weird things happen. What I wanted to know was, did the TV turn on because my subconscious mind was looking for a distraction because I didn’t really want to meditate? Or did the TV turn on because meditation makes it easier to accidentally affect things with pk?

  2. The idea of other people influencing your reality without your noticing is really interesting.

    Someone (think it’s Osho) writes about slowly discovering the “scent” of your own consciousness through meditation, and I think I’ve started to experience that. Once you find that scent, you can catch it when you’re in all sorts of other states where previously you’d be too caught up to find it.

    And now I can also sometimes find subtle traces of other people lingering in my head, hours or days after I’ve forgotten about any interaction with them. It’s sort of like people leaving their perfume sillage behind them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *