∆ The confusion of vision.

Note the original book, a Brief History of Timelessness' has a long section exclusively about how our vision is not at all what it seems - but is really an excellent example of ' a persistent illusion' (or perfect misunderstanding to be more precise) 

- I may include the entire section on vision at some stage. 

Misunderstandings of vision.

Our vision seems to work perfectly, and show us the world around us. In a sense it does this, but it also really just shows us 'the inside of our own eyes'.

This is an example of the kind of 'persistent illusion' that works perfectly, and may never be really seen or considered for what it is in an entire lifetime. Simply because the illusion works flawlessly, and is useful.

just as our vision is not quite what it seems, but works perrfectly, so to perhaps is time not at all what it seems, but still a notion that works almost perfectly.
(where time fails, is in that it describes the past and the future, but never shows how or where these invisible things are meant to be.)

Odd as it may seem. These three astronomers probably feel that everything you and I see in this picture, along with the stars, or other objects their telescopes are pointed at can be 'seen'.

In reality, the only things in this picture that are actually being 'seen' are the small pairs of images created in each observers eyeballs - as represented by the location of the white dots on the right.

If you think about the consequences of this they are quite profound. Surrounding the astronomers, or any observer, the area is in a sense completely 'black', or 'un seen'.

But wherever we are, we feel that we, and all the (sighted) people around us can see everything around us. In fact there are only tiny circles of 'retina' inside of us, that are ever being seen.

What do you think you see?

If you look at the night sky and think you can see the stars you are slightly mistaken.

for example, if you just glance up at the night sky while saying the words 'one thousand', you will have effectively only allowed around 300,000 km of light into your eyes.

300,000km is less than the distance from the earth to the moon. So while you may feel you have seen the stars, in fact, all you could have seen is light that was already in the space (ie the distance) between the moon and the earth.

This light is in a sense 'the actual star' - where does a star actually end? And the images this light forms on your retinas will 'look like' the stars that it came from (even if they have burnt all their fuel and are releasing no more light) 

But while this is interesting, or even confusing, we should be very careful about saying this is like 'we are looking back in time' - or any kind of a proof that time, and 'the temporal past' exists.

The following is a cut and past from the Timelessness book draft - aimed at showing just how intense our 'misunderstanding' of something (using VISION as an example) can be.
it is also intending to show the nature of a persistent 'illusion' - really just a misunderstanding of what we perceive - and how we can cut through such misunderstandings with a little careful thought. 

We can also see how the very nature of a persistent illusion/misunderstanding, is that exposing them can be a little unnerving, and even when exposed the consequences don't seem to matter much - i.e. if its a perfect illusion then things are virtually as if there is no illusion/ misunderstanding.  

the consequence here, in the case of 'Time', is that if it is a persistent misunderstanding then all talk of time dilation ( the slowing of time) , time travel, space and time being merged as spacetime, 'positrons being electrons moving back in time' (Retrocausality - Richard Feynman Retrocausality - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ) - must all be incorrect, and reworked if there is only matter existing and interacting 'now'.

(NOTE this cut and paste is from and unchecked, unedited draft section 
- note also, I am saying that while what we actually 'see' is just in our minds, so in a sense a misunderstanding or illusion, this should not be taken to mean the real outside world does not exist. i.e we may not actually perceive a cup, just an image or representation of one, but 'the actual cup' must exist, so, it seems to me, that the real world exists and is not 'just' in our minds as some people seem to conclude.).

The example of the illusion of vision.

I believe I can show just how the illusion of Time and its distinctions are all just such unfounded misunderstandings but because this persistent illusion is so naturally perfect and so well integrated into our model of how the world around us works a head-on attempt to expose the problems with ‘time’ will almost certainly fail due to the large number of intricate details we will have to detect and expose without any previous experience of seeing and exposing a simpler ‘persistent illusion’ first.

To get some illusion busting experience we can take the example of the workings of our own eyesight, something that (if your are sighted) you will have used and therefore tested constantly throughout every day of your life possibly without really thinking about, but still probably feel that you at least correctly understand basically what it is, what it does, and how it works even if you may not be particularly interested in the details.

 Hopefully if I can show you that even when using your own eyes in daily tasks you are constantly under the influence of a persistent illusion.

And by showing you how you may have radically misunderstood the workings of your own eyesight and what you actually ‘see’ without ever being aware of it, you may gain a little understanding into just what a persistent illusion may be.

And from there understand how they may work, how they may be hidden in plain sight, and also gain some faith in the idea that equally impossible as it may at first seem, time itself could also be another deep and perfect illusion or misunderstanding.

Do we see what we think we see?

To start our exploration of the nature of persistent illusions or misunderstandings we will first use the workings of our own vision as a test case, while examining vision consider how what is shown by careful examination can conflict with your initial thoughts about the subject in the following ways. (XXX check this list matches detailed descriptions)

  • Illusions can be very hard to explain clearly.
  • The reader may have innate resistance to grasping the point being made.
  • Partial investigation of an illusion can close the investigation prematurely.
  • An illusion can seem to be backed up almost perfectly by other facts or assumptions.
  • Familiarity with illusions can be a problem, and stop us seeing them for what they are.
  • Understanding a long held Illusion can be unnerving.
  • Illusions can work smoothly, constantly and automatically as a result of the way nature itself works.
  • When an illusion is removed, or shown up, we can tend to automatically ‘explain away’ what is revealed as soon as it is seen.
  • Some illusions can work well and also perform a very useful function.
  • Whether the illusion is seen or not may not seem to matter or have any significant effect.
  • Even once seen and grasped the understanding can be dropped again seamlessly out of habit.
  • The truth behind an illusion may not be what we first assume it to be.
  • Persistent illusions can hide within a trail of slight misunderstandings that seem to ‘add up’ constantly.

Examining a simple object.

Take a look at a simple object fairly near to you. Say a cup on a table. You could reach out and grab the cup, or leave it where it stands, either action would be fine because the cup is clearly outside of you, and not inside otherwise you would feel it rattling around in your skull.

So the cup is outside of you and so of course it appears to be outside of you, and also appears to be some distance away, say around one metre.

Now look at a more distant object, perhaps a picture or a notice on a wall. In this case, you could get up and walk over to the object to touch and move it to confirm that what you think you are seeing ‘over there’ really is over there, and again we would normally say that this distant object that you are seeing is clearly outside of you and in this case It is also a significant distance from you.

Now let's consider in fine detail what it is that you are actually ‘seeing’ when you look at something because it may turn out to be not what you think it is.

If you look back at the cup then put a hand, palm outwards, in the space between the cup and your eye you won’t be able to see the cup completely any more, and we would casually say that this is because ‘your hand blocks the view of the cup’.

This seems obvious and insignificant at first, clearly you cannot see the cup now because your own hand just ‘blocks’ your view of it, but if you think about it more carefully you may realise that it is not because you cannot ‘see through’ your hand that your view of the cup is interrupted, but it is because any available light ‘coming from’ the cup cannot make it from the cup, into the palm of your hand, all the way through your hand, and then out of the other side of your hand so that it can continue into your eyes.

So we have two slightly different explanations as to why you cannot see the cup when your hand is between it and your eyes.

The first is that you hand blocks your view of the cup, and so because you can’t see through your hand you can no longer see the cup. While the second explanation is that light which is still streaming off the cup now cannot make it through your hand, from the cup side, to the other side and then onwards to reach your eyes.

This may sound like basically the same point just expressed in different words but this is not the case, and it highlights a critical distinction that you need to fully understand if you are to ‘see’ vision for what it really is because although both explanations seem to work as well as each other, there is a very significant error here because the first explanation, (that you cannot see through your hand) is fundamentally incorrect and misleading in a very subtle way.

It completely wrong because it relies on a casual but ‘working’ assumption that we in some sense ‘look out’ at the objects around us to see them, as opposed to realising that it is light coming into our eyes that we see.

So, our slightly mistaken casual assumption that we look out at objects around us leaves us with an understanding of vision that seems to work ok but contains some elements that are totally back to front, i.e. we get the flow or direction of the light we are considering completely i.e. 180 degrees wrong. [1]

The subtleness of the problem(s) here, and the depth of the misunderstandings they lead to, are even deeper than they first appear. Because once it is pointed that we have got things back to front, most of us quickly realise that we already kind of knew this detail Or that we could have worked it out for ourselves anyway.

We may even have read that the ancient Greeks (CHECK) first mistakenly thought that we did see, or project, out of our eyes, but that we modern folk know better and we may even recall simple biology or physics lessons from school explaining how vision works, and explaining how when we look at an object an inverted (and reversed) image of the object is formed within our eyes.

This possibility, that once our slight misunderstanding is highlighted we realise that we already partially knew the error, is significant to this book because I hope to show how it can be within or behind the act of overlooking small distinctions like this that much larger ‘persistent illusions’ can hide.

This can happen because in the act of spotting and fixing one misunderstanding we may think we have completely resolved that part of the problem, and then swiftly and confidently move on to the next part of the issue.

The problem here is that we spot a misunderstanding, correct it and so think we have found and corrected a false or unconfirmed belief, but if there is a second misunderstanding ‘hiding behind’ the one we have just spotted and corrected we may conceal it from ourselves even more.

What I am saying in a far too abstract way is that if you are looking for your keys and you incompletely check the pockets of one coat it may take you even longer than normal to find them because you falsely marked of a location as having been fully searched.

You never see the object!

The subtleness of the realisation that when our view of an object is blocked it is blocked because light from the object cannot make it through the hand to our eyes (and not blocked because we cannot see through our hand) is significant because if we examine what it means in more detail you will reach the slightly shocking but logically provable conclusion that in fact, ‘you never actually see the cup, or any other object, at all!’.

Hopefully at this stage the statement ‘you never actually see the cup at all’ will seem basically and fundamentally incorrect to you, and hopefully if you can remember this opinion here, and if I can subsequently change this opinion then you will be more open to the possibility of seeing other significant persistent illusions such as of course ‘Time’.

Of course ‘I see the cup’, you may exclaim. Why? Well it’s obvious; you can just see it directly, here, now. You can detect it some distance away from you and to confirm that you do see what you think you see you can immediately reach out and physically grab it if you wish, and you would not grab a hand full of thin air. We just clarified that.

But what actually happens is this;

You only ever see the image formed on your retina by ‘the light coming from the cup’.

Similarly you never actually see a distant picture or a notice pinned on the far wall, you only ever see ‘the light from’ the object however near or far it may be.

So as with the nearby cup you can put up a hand and block out the light from it you can also do this with the light coming from any distant object in the same way, because you don’t see the object, you just see some of the light that happens to reflect[2] off the object in such a way that it ends up heading, un-blocked, in the direction of your eye.

What this means is that you never see any object, you only see an image of any object and you only see that image where it is formed. And the place where the image is formed is not outside where the cup, wall, picture or notice is, but inside your own body, specifically inside your eyeballs and on your retinas.


The general nature of light, as it carries ‘images’ from A to B.

You can think about the nature of light in a different way by considering that any light source, say the sun, a candle or a light bulb pushes out a steady flow of particles of light called ‘photons’, and then imagine these photons as being a steady stream of minute and harmless ‘pellets’ constantly streaming away from the light source very rapidly, as if from a machine gun or hose pipe, and flying off in pretty much all directions.

 These pellets bounce off everything they hit, e.g. the cup, and again scatter on a new journey in all directions away from the object.

Wherever such a stream of light particles bounce or reflect of any objects they take on new characteristics depending directly on the nature of the surface of that object i.e. directly relating to the shape, colour and ‘brightness’ of the object etc.

So looking directly at a light source (being careful not to damage your eyes), will give you one image, while looking at essentially the same stream of light[3] after it has been ‘reconfigured’ by bouncing off a cup or a painting or a distant planet, you will receive a different image, an image relating to whatever the light last ‘bounced off’[4].

 Some of these ‘reflected’ photons or pellets will make it to your eye if it is in their path, and thus you can see ‘an image of’ the object, but if you are blocking the photons path with your hand the ‘image’ of the object that the pellets carry can no longer physically reach and ‘touch’ your eye.

Instead the light holding the image (which is therefore also ‘the image’) will however ‘splatter’ into the palm of your hand. Here of course instead of your hand ‘seeing’ the image (and sending a version of it up your arm for your brain to perceive), the photons will automatically be reconfigured by what they hit and in reflecting off your hand whatever image they first held will reconfigured to now be an image of your palm.

How light carries, and ‘is’ information. V2 consolidate XXX

One problem with the idea that time may be a perfect illusion is that we may feel that perfect illusions don’t exist because if they did then we would have seen a few by now!

It is however quite possible for perfect illusions to exist and you could in fact be looking directly at a perfect illusion for a lifetime and never quiet see it for what it is, because such illusions are not the result of devious magicians trying to outwit us, but a result of us subtly misunderstanding the workings of nature in ways that although fundamentally wrong actually work in our favour.

This is very hard to explain in an abstract way so here I will describe such an illusion firstly to open your mind to the reality of such illusions and secondly because parts of the illusion I will explain here also relate directly to some of the following discussions about our possible misunderstandings of the nature of time.

How our vision seems to work.

Sighted people constantly use their vision to navigate the world, avoiding bumping into dense objects, and denser people while also admiring the sights of the world around them, or to search out desirable objects (and desirable people)[5], and the way our vision works at first seems fairly obvious and straightforward.

If you want to see some ‘thing’ say for example a cup on a table, then whether it is close by or far away you just ‘look at it’. When you look at the cup then as long there is nothing blocking your view and you are not in complete darkness you will it sitting on the table wherever it happens to be.

If this seems to be basically obvious and correct to you at this point then bear this in mind and see if your opinion changes by the end of this chapter because hopefully by then I will have shown you that this really isn’t the case at all.XXX Section jumps

A quick re-view of vision.

Figure 61Shielding different parts of a candle flame shows how light from every 'point' on the flame covers all of our lens, not just small 'point'.

If you light a candle you can clearly see the whole flame all at once. But if you shield all of the flame from view apart from just the tip, then naturally all you can see is the tip. This makes it easier to realise that the light we see from the ‘tip’ is not just a single small thin beam of light that carries the tiny image of the tip in a single thin stream of light through one small area of our cornea; But that the light from just the tip of the candle spreads out in all directions, and covers the entire surface of our cornea, our lens then regroups or refocuses that ‘spread’ of light back into a small area on our retina[6].

This may not at first seem particularly fascinating, but if you then cover the top of the candle, so you can only see light from the base, we can see that the same thing must be true; the light from the base of the flame must also cover the entire surface of your cornea. With nothing blocking the view we can then see that light from the tip, and light from the base, must always both be constantly covering the entire surface of your eye. And this must also be true of every single ‘point’ on the surface of the flame. Of course the tip or the base of a candle are just small things chosen for this example, the observation holds true for every part of the surface of every object, not just candle flames.

If you are looking at a computer monitor you may be seeing well over a million individual tiny ‘pixels’. Each and every one of these will be covering the entire surface of your eye(s) with photons forming an image of itself, (which your lens then ‘directs back’ into a point on your retina).

This means that whether you are looking at a page in a book, a tree in the distance, a pixel on a computer monitor 1 metre away or the light from a star a billion km away, all of these objects are constantly covering your ‘entire eye’ with images of every part of themselves. So in the case of a page of text, every part of every letter and every full-stop is covering all of your eye with images of itself[7].


Figure 62 We can see how every 'point' on every object creates an image of itself everywhere light can travel, no matter how near or far (though the photons diverge, and so ‘images’ degrade in brightness and detail with distance).

This shows us that in all the space around us any ‘chosen area’ as shown by the dotted circles in the diagrams, will hold an entire representation of every point on the surface of all the objects in the area[8]. And it is these ‘images’ that you and I walk through and see as we wander down a street. However to us, is does not seem that this is what we are doing at all! To us it seems as if we are walking along just looking at things around us, and seeing those things wherever they are.

There are a number of reasons all this detail about ‘light’ is mentioned in a book about time. It demonstrates just how wrong we can be about something, and how little difference this can seem to make if we are quick to dismiss what we uncover. It shows us how powerful and revealing a little bit of logical thought can be, and how much we can learn without even leaving our chair just by carefully re-considering what we already know.

This thought experiment also rather oddly reveals how unimportant and un-life-changing considering the real truth can at first seem to be. So we should bear this in mind considering  that this book is all about uncovering another persistent illusion, that of the existence of time. So we should be aware that some of the illusions of time may be hiding behind the very fact that when certain misunderstandings about a subject are directly revealed they may at first seem to be very ‘unimportant’. And this apparent unimportance can be combined with our own nonchalance, and biased habit of following the herd’s point of view, to lead us into completely overlooking the actual truth about time unless we are careful.

You might say that if seeing the real truth, is virtually the same as having a seemingly unimportant misunderstanding then why bother? Well if you believed that ‘magic’ exists, or that pots of gold could be found at the end of rainbows, but your belief was wrong, then ‘not seeing the truth’ might leave you wasting your entire life searching for something that a little careful thought would show you would never be found. While you also mistakenly thought this ‘elusiveness’ was part of the nature of what you searched for. 

The availability of images.

To see things we need light, this can be daylight, moonlight, candlelight, electric light and so on, but without some source of light everything seems dark, and although we may know certain objects are around us without light we could possible hear or feel them, but not see them.

So the following discussion assumes that you are somewhere that is lit, given this condition let’s consider precisely what is it that light does for us.

First consider or actually try the following experiment and you may be surprised at the insight into the nature of light it reveals.

Make a small circle with your thumb and index finger, or take a piece of card with a neat circle cut in it, and then move that ‘circle’ about you, anywhere you want in the area where you are, as high as you want, as low as you want, in the corner of the room, under a chair, above a table, next to a window and so on.

In doing this it should be fairly obvious that wherever the circle is, there must be light passing through it. In fact you can confirm this for yourself directly or get someone else to confirm it for you by either of you literally putting an eye near the circle and looking through it or even lining up a camera on either side of the loop and take a photograph. Looking at the resulting picture will of course confirm that had you looked through the loop from the cameras location you would have seen whatever is on the photograph.

This seems obvious and pointless until you consider what it really reveals about all of the apparently empty space around us, ‘empty space’ that we think we ‘look through’ when we are looking at objects some distance away from us.

If you think about it you will realise that the images you can see if you move your eye to look directly through the location where the circle is, must of course be ‘there’ constantly whether you, someone else, a camera an animal or anything else happen or happen not to be at that particular location[9].

You can also realise that from one chosen side of the circle you can move your point of view up, down, left right and closer to or further from the circle and in doing so you would of course get various different views. The first thing to notice about all of these different views is that whatever they happen to be of, whatever you are seeing from your side of the circle must be coming through the disc of space or air defined by that circle.

You could look at the light coming through the circle from either side, and whichever side you are on you could also look through the loop you can look at any angle through this loop, if you look ‘up’ you may see the sky and no sign of the ground, and if you look down, see the ground and no sign of the sky.

So clearly both of these very different images (and the millions of images between them) are passing through the same physical location (within the loop you have made with your fingers) simultaneously.

You can also realise that there would also always be countless images, (and two sets of countless images because you could look through the loop in either direction) at every one of those locations constantly!

If you imagine replacing the circle you made with your fingers with just a small circle of glass or just a loop of wire you can see that what we are really talking about is ‘any’ circle of space around you that light happens to be passing through[10].

Now, considering you can place that circle anywhere at all that you choose you can look around you at the room or location you are in and realise that the previous observations must be true for every single area around you and in any orientation, be it under a table, against a wall, on top of a tree, 10, 100, 1000 metres above you or somewhere near the moon or mars or any far distant location in deepest space.

So you can see that, in any lit place, the space around you whether it is filled with air, water or even the vacuum of space, is very far from ‘empty’ it is in fact constantly traversed by billions of photons[11] (or ripples of light), bunches of which can always be regrouped with any basic lens shaped object be it the eyes of living things, drops of water or manmade cameras, to form coherent ‘images’ of the surroundings.

Of course the assumption here is that there is ‘light’ in abundance and for us there nearly always is, and this too is one of the factors that contribute to the illusion.

So when you are walking down a street  looking at the things in front of you or the things you are passing by you are in fact just happening to select a sequence of available images that are already ‘there’ the same height off the ground that your eyes happen to be.

And you are constantly walking, or ‘bumping’ into these available images almost as if you were walking into a sequence of very up to date photographs hung up from a line in front of you.

POSS EXTRANEOUS (luckily pictures paint a thousand words, what I am trying to explain here is the fact that when there is light around us the space around us is automatically filled with a virtually infinite collection of images of everything that is directly around us.

What mirrors actually show us.

To see what I mean try standing in a lit room and randomly picking some area or spot in the space around you and then place a hand there.

You will of course be able to see your hand, and the details of the skin of your palm, because some of the available light in the room is carrying an image of your hand to your eyes.

Now place a small mirror over part of the palm of your hand. You probably won’t be surprised that you can see what we call a ‘reflection’ of another part of the room, and even tilt the mirror around to see different parts of the room. Reflections like this are so commonplace to us that we generally see them without giving them any thought.

Figure 63 A mirror shows us a reflection. But what we may miss is that it is really showing us the actual patterns of photons that are flying through the air around us - and in this case 'lighting' that particular area of a hand.

Now let’s consider in more detail what a mirror can really prove to us about the space around us. In particular it’s important to first realise…

·         That this mirror experiment shows you that all of those ‘images’, of the room, are constantly being created and are ‘available’ at that location.

And secondly,

·         What was lighting up your hand so you could see it in the first part of the experiment, was, or is, those images!

(If you don’t have a mirror you can simple make a circle with your thumb and index finger and locate this anywhere around you, then by moving your eyes to look through the loop from either side you can demonstrate that (of course) there are images constantly in that location)REP – pick this or other description.

Furthermore, as you can prove experimentally just by walking around and looking at the mirror at any location that similar images are constantly being created in a similar way at all other locations in the room, even though they may not be being ‘seen’.

This is made even clearer if you see a large mirror mounted on a wall because this shows both the ‘images’ that are the light hitting that large section of wall, and how the wall surrounding the mirror just looks like ordinary wall even though we know it is being lit by a very complicated pattern of light that can be seen as a detailed image if looked at from the other direction or in a mirror.

 (And this can be even more dramatic if you look at the images of entire buildings, landmarks or just clouds reflected on the giant mirrors formed by some glass walled office blocks in a city and realise that they are showing you a sample of the light and images that were heading in that direction before the mirror of the buildings glass sent them back to you).

Another way of seeing lights multipurpose role is apparent if you first look at the detailed information given out by a mobile phone screen and then turn that screen to face away from you to use it as a small torch, here you know that the light given out is not just a simple beam, and you can see that whatever it is it is transformed on reflection into being an image of whatever you point it at.

With a mobile phone screen you can imagine each of the individual symbols, characters or letters on the screen as being separate detailed emissions of light.

From here if you lay the phone flat on a table and look at a single character on the screen and move your head from far left to far right you can see that the light your eyes receive when to the left of the screen must be a completely different stream of light than you see when your eyes are to the far right of the screen!

This may at first seem trivial but then consider that although as you move your head from left to right you have the sensation you are constantly seeing the same thing from a different angle, in fact you are constantly seeing completely different streams of light.


Figure 64 - Different people think they are seeing the same ‘thing’ or object. This is true in a ‘casual’ sense. But the real truth is that this is an illusion or misunderstanding. Every eye actually sees a completely different 'thing', and what they see is not the object – but an internal image created by light from the object.

XXX edit note – txt refers to phone screen diagram could be changed.

What we see and what we look at are different things. Though they may seem not to be. This is a small but very significant distinction, we may be looking ‘at’ something, that is we are ‘pointing our eyes in the direction of’ the object, but what we are ‘seeing’ is the image formed on our retinas by the streams of light coming off the object and heading from the object towards us. So we are pointing our eyes in one direction say north, but what we are seeing is ‘light’ that is heading south.

So it is not that the symbol on phone screen simply is visible or can be seen, but that the screen is constantly pushing out billions of images of the symbol in all directions simultaneously.

Because you can see all the other characters etc on the screen as you move your head around this must also true for every single character on the screen at once, and luckily all those different images of each character all flying out from the screen in all directions at once don’t interfere with and corrupt each other, but instead give us the illusion that we are just constantly seeing the same thing from different angles.

In this example I have used the idea of looking at a mobile phone screen because we can easily grasp that it just emits light in complicated patterns but the above reasoning applies to every visible thing whether they emit or reflect light, TVs newspapers, cars, birds and so on.

Understanding starlight

It is interesting to consider this fact that although you are looking ‘at’ something (looking ‘at’ in the sense of ‘pointing your eyes in the direction of’) what you are ‘seeing’ is a slightly different matter.

If you point your eyes in the direction of the moon while walking along a street. The moon seems to of course just constantly be visible in the same spot in the sky. But from the first place you looked at it to some other place say 10 metres down the street it must be the case that at that location you are intercepting or seeing totally different streams of light.

Each stream happening to hit your eyes at head height and giving you what seems to be a single constant image. Furthermore you can realise that no matter how far away the moon or any object may be from you it is also true that each of your individual eyes is seeing a completely different stream of light.

This means that even when two romantic lovers put their heads close together and stare into the light from the same individual same star billions of km away they are in fact seeing different things!

(in fact 2 completely separate ‘samples’ of photons from the same source that have travelled all that distance in a sense side by side but also divided from each other)

In addition to these points it is interesting to realise that although when you point your eyes in the direction of a distant star you seem to see a single speck of light and at first this might lead us to think that there is a tiny or thin beam of light that we are seeing, and that it is so thin and small as a result of the immense distance away from us that the star is located.

But this cannot possibly be the case because commonsense tells us that just like a candle flame, every star must be sending out an entire sphere of light in all directions.

This means that what you see is the part of this ‘shell’ of starlight that hits your eyes and so must cover the entire surface of your lens in an even spread. It is your lens that is pulling this tiny ‘flat’ sample of the stars light ‘abnormally[12]’ back into a point on your retina.

And in fact the light touches every part of your entire body and all of your surroundings (the entire half of the Earth that you are standing on and its surrounding space, in fact all around itself in all directions, but from our limited point of view while looking at a star, actually seeing the speck of light from our point of view almost stops us considering all the other locations all around the star in open space where it would also look like a spot of light.

This is obvious when you think about it and can be easily checked by putting a light sensor (your, or someone else’s eye) anywhere in the surrounding area, anywhere that you can see a representation of the star is of course a place where some of the star light has reached, if this was not the case then as you walked along while looking in the direction of the star it would not be visible in some places.

XXX move following

Looking at a starry sky, although we may be on Earth we are still moving through locations in space just as much as any astronaut or planetary probe. So our eyes are telling us that all the detail we can see, and much, much more, is packed into every ‘iris sized’ 5mm circle of the universe around us. So, if we are talking about light,(which also has energetic mass) the space between he stars is far from empty. Where we see a star we block that part of its light. But where the light is not blocked the stars influence carries on. So in a sense all of ‘empty space’ is really full of the edges of stars. XXKEEP?




 If you extend this idea and imagine seeing two stars in completely different locations the sky at once you can see how each star must simultaneously completely cover your entire lens with a spread of its own light, and your lens must pull both of those spreads of light into two distinct spots of light on your retina.

We rarely ever see only two stars in the sky, normally we would see thousands of stars all at once, and so on a night where we are looking up and seeing ten thousand stars all at once then the very point where your eye is located must be the point where ten thousand spheres of light are all meeting, each covering your entire lens with photons, and all being regrouped back into the individual spots of light you see in your eyes.

Note this observation is not only true for stars, every part of every object that we say is ‘in your field of vision’ is in fact an object that is covering the entire surface of your eye’s lens with light holding an image of itself, be it a car to the left of your vision, a cloud above you or a person to your right and so on.

(XXX SECTION NEEDS 1 or 2 simple diagrams.)

(When looking at a star, or stars, in the sky we may feel that because the object is so far away the light we see is just a single tiny ‘dot’ in the sky, but this is completely incorrect. Just as a candle or any other such object gives out light in a complete shell in all directions, so does every star.

This means that no matter how far away from the star(s) you are, your whole eye is hit and covered completely, all at once, by part of the shell of light from the star. Your lens regroups these photons to make a re-presentation of the star on your retina.

Realising this you can understand that if you are looking at two stars at once, you are not seeing two separate, thin, beams or streams of light that take different separate paths, and pass through different ‘spots’ in your lens to make 2 images. But instead each star is simultaneously covering your entire lens with a sample of light from, or rather ‘of’ itself[13]. And your lens is simultaneously ‘separating’ and ‘regrouping’ all this overlaid information into two distinct separate groups of photons on your retina.


This is quiet an interesting point to consider, and I think it may often be overlooked because most diagrams about light and optics have to convey a lot of three dimensional information on to a static 2 d sheet of paper.

But if you consider the fact that when looking at the light from 2 separate stars each one covers your entire lens (and, eye, and face, and body, and the whole side of the earth that you are standing on) with light at once, then expand it to realise that if you are looking at 5 million stars, they are all covering you lens simultaneously with information about themselves it is even more fascinating.

 (Although this discussion on light may seem like a bit of a diversion from the subject of time the nature of quite how signals, waves, and in particular light travel over distances and carry information or ‘consequences’, and an appreciation of how there may be a lot more going on in the seemingly empty space between you and something on the other side of the room, or galaxy, is significant further on)

These kind of examples of how light and vision can be seen to operate very differently to how we might think they operate for our whole lives is also relevant to the illusion of time because it shows us how if something works well, without needing our conscious help in making it work, we are happy ‘misunderstand’ it or at least not fully and closely understand it, because very often the misunderstanding has no significant consequence.

The other side of seeing.

The finer points of the way that light outside of is used to fill all of the space around us with ‘available images’ as it automatically creates and transports countless representations of everything it reflects off are not that easy to grasp because we usually walk around in well lit rooms indoors or well lit landscapes outdoors and so our vision constantly works basically flawlessly and our awareness is not drawn to how or why it does so.

We can investigate our illusions or misunderstandings things a bit more here by now examining the ‘other side’ of the act of seeing.

For you or I to ‘see’ an object there must be light coming from it. This light, be it be reflected from, or emitted by the object has to make its way from the object to your eye and then through the eye’s cornea, pupil, lens and the transparent fluid that fills each eyeball to keep its shape[14] to end up forming a focused image on your retina.

The lens is crucial here because it regroups or focus’s light from a particular directions very intentionally so that a sharp image is formed at the retina and it is here, specifically on the retina, that the actual energy carried by the light itself triggers off reactions in the retinas highly specialised ‘rod and cone’ cells.

It is these electro-chemical reactions between the light and the retina’s cells that create and send further messages, again as electro-chemical chain reactions, down the ‘optic nerve’ to your brain where you can perceive the signals as images representing objects.

Quite where the optic nerve ends and the brain begins is a bit of a grey area (pun intended) but the point is that it is at some place or location actually within our physical bodies, specifically on our retina within the eye, that the image we eventually see is initially formed.

(and it is at some physical location actually within our bodies and specifically our minds that any understanding, processing ‘cognizing’ or seeing of any image happens, as opposed to what we assume happens when we mistakenly think we are ‘seeing things’ that are outside of us and some distance away.)

The ‘Thumb pad vision’ experiment intro.

Logically reasoning and understanding that of course we only really see things on our retinas is not quite the same as really grasping the full consequences of this fact. TO see what I mean try the following odd but simple experiment/exercise.

 Although it might seem a strange thing to do, look at the pads of your thumbs, just where you thumb-print is, and consider how it would be if each thumb pad could do the same job as one of your retinas.

What I mean by this is consider how things might appear if the pad of your thumb was sensitive not just to the relatively large sensations you get when you actually touch a physical object but was also sensitive to the miniscule and faint ‘touch’ of ordinary light, that is just the normal light around us that the retina constantly receives and responds to, but that the rest of our skin generally doesn’t react to unless the light is so strong that we are actually getting sunburnt.

If your thumb pads were as sensitive to this light as your retinas are then, If you held up your thumbs, with the light sensitive pads facing outwards, very close to and directly in front of each of your eyes two we could agree that two basic things would have to be true.

Firstly your thumbs would obviously block out your present view of the area you are in, because they would of course be directly intercepting the actual stream of light that normally carries the image of your surroundings to your eyes.

Secondly your thumb pads would now be ‘seeing’[15] precisely what they were stopping your eyes from seeing!

Thumb pads in detail.

So, a bit of thought reveals that this light, the light that is now hitting your thumb pads instead of your retinas, is not just some random splurge of photons. Not at all, the light that falls on your thumb pads must contain absolutely everything you would see if your thumbs were not blocking your line of sight.

So, to reiterate, whatever light hits your thumb pad(s) it must contain (and must be) all the information that goes into making up the image of the world you would see if your thumb was not blocking its path.

Therefore if you could interpret the incredibly subtle sensations of light intercepted by your thumb pads then you would be ‘seeing’ with your thumbs just as clearly as you do with your eyes.

So if you imagine now closing your eyes and placing your two ‘light sensitive’ thumb pads up to and in front of your eyes facing outwards, you can get the idea of an image of the room reaching those thumb pads. If you were to then keep you thumbs in front of your eyes and slowly turn your head from left to right or up and down as if you were looking around a room normally, then you would feel your thumbs moving over that image – just as if you were moving your thumb pads left to right over a spray of water, or some kind of 3d etching or relief map of the scene.

Alternatively if you were stationary and something moved across the room in front of you, you would feel a pattern of light move across the thumb pad (you can simulate this by brushing a finger nail over your own thumb or moving your thumb beneath a strong stream of water coming from a tap)

So, if instead of interpreting the signals reaching your thumb pads as normal touch sensations your brain rerouted the signals to the centres devoted to processing images, then you would be able to ‘see’ the patterns of light hitting your thumb pads as the same kinds of images you normally see with your retinas.

The Thumb-Pad experiment conclusion. 

Now if I have done my job correctly, at this point you should be slightly feeling irritated, not particularly enlightened, and also rather confident that you have been told in a very long winded way something pretty obvious and which is of little or no consequence.

So what is the key point here?

 Well you and I are very used to the idea that our fingers and thumbs, indeed all of our skin can only feel that which actually physically ‘reaches’ and so actually ‘physically touches’ it.

This means that if we close our eyes and wander around a room trying not to injure ourselves we tend to move slowly and cautiously with arms outstretched, reacting carefully and timidly to anything we reach out and touch, or that reaches out and touches us, and reacting only to things we touch as, when, where and if direct physical contact is made.

In this case, with our eyes closed, we can very easily get a sense that between us and everything else in the room it is effectively ‘pitch black’, that is to say the light travelling ‘between objects’ is not being seen.

Another distinction to make here that may simplify things is to see that generally speaking whether we touch something, or something touches us, it is essentially the same thing. What I am trying to point out is that luckily we happen to walk around in a world where trillions of photons bounce around and off objects so that inevitably many of them end up reaching and directly physically touching our retinas. This is a similar but reversed way from how we reach out with our hands to touch objects. If we are in a location where there are relatively few photons bouncing around we are not ‘feeling’ much light reaching our bodies and our light sensors, and so the objects around us appear diminished, but of course they exist just as much as always.

So, with touch, we only able to react at the actual moment or place where we physically make contact with some object whether we touch it or it touches us, and we do this because of course with our sense of touch we cannot detect anything at all beyond the surface of our own skin[16].

Therefore with our eyes closed, a pencil 5 mm away, a nearby cup on a table, a picture on an opposite wall, or an entire mountain range 20 kilometres away are all equally completely undetectable!

This is because the key similarity between walking around in the pitch dark, and walking around with a blindfold on, is only the fact that in both cases light cannot make it to your retinas. In one case because there is no light available and in the other because available light is blocked from completing its journey at the last stage. Either way the significance is that it is only the light at your body, and never the object ‘over there’ that you ever ‘see’.

Un-blindfolded, in the light, with our eyes open however, we generally speaking fully and completely believe that we can see objects 5mm away or 5 km away.

But in fact, as covered in the previous sections, we have hopefully agreed that in fact we are still just reacting to things as they actually physically touch us, in this case the ‘things’ that physically come to us and touch us happen to be photons of light entering our eyes.

Sighted man’s bluff.

So if you reconsider the idea that rather than seeing distant objects we could block our view and ‘feel the light’ with our thumb pads, then you can see that in actual fact we would never be detecting, or ‘seeing’ any actual distant objects around us however near or far they might be.

We would only be detecting the ‘pellets’ or photons of light that actually physically made it across the gap between the object(s) and us, and physically touched our thumb pads. REP

So in this sense, we live our entire lives just as if we were playing blind man’s bluff and wandering around cautiously with our arms outstretched feeling for clues, we are entirely ‘blind’ to anything any distance at all away from us, unless by chance there happened to be enough tiny pellets of light bouncing around the room to also bounce off nearby objects and carry information about these objects to our waiting thumb pads.

So we are ‘blind’!

The significance of this is that hopefully you can understand that this is how we do in fact live our lives. We actually are completely ‘blind’ to absolutely everything around us unless it is physically touching some part or parts[17] of the surface of our body.

In reality we never see the cup or any other object that is on the table ‘there’, or the painting over there or the mountain way over there. In actual reality we never ever see over any ‘distance’ at all, we only ever ‘see’ the images that form on our own retinas as long as there is a stream of light to keep creating them.

It is as hard to clearly explain the full significance of this observation as it can be to grasp, and it can be rather unnerving when you do grasp the consequences, but then don’t forget that we are trying here to see and expose the working of a ‘persistent illusion’, so we can naturally expect things to not be so obvious at first.

To clarify the consequences and significance of this try sitting down and pointing your eyes very purposefully in the direction of the light coming from various objects a cm, a few metres, a few hundred metres or even a few hundred thousand kilometres away from you (the moon for example).

And then while staring ‘at’ this light consider that no matter how strongly you feel to the contrary, you cannot possibly be ‘seeing that object out there, over there’. You can only be ‘seeing an image of the object’ as that image falls on a specialised part of your body[18] and so that thing that you are staring at, and have a very real sensation that is some distance away is in fact over here and in your eye.

What is more every image of every object large or small and every landscape, background or scenic view that you see has to go through the small circular hole around 2-3mm across formed by your iris before is then refocused and spread out again slightly to cover your retina.

This means that if you stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon admiring what you think is a massive spacious and panoramic view stretching for 10s of kilometres from horizon to horizon, then you are very much mistaken. What you are actually admiring is the amount of detail and information that can be held by a stream of photons constantly passing through a tiny circle a few millimetres across i.e. the size of your eyes aperture.

The distinction here is that we very naturally, and it turns out very usefully, confuse the ‘image’ of an object with the actual object itself.

Confusing the ‘map with the territory’ or the ‘image with the object’.

 Candle light images in detail.

Figure 65 Projecting an image on a wall shows us clearly that an 'object' and 'images' of it, are not the same thing. But every one of us humans can never see anything other than ‘the images formed within our eyes’, we think, or ‘just assume’ we are always seeing the world and its objects directly. Or that it makes no difference that we do not.

Similarly, because we all only have direct access to our own ‘memories’, we think, or ‘just assume, without thinking’ that there is a temporal past. I.e. some other sequence or accumulating list of events, constantly progressing linearly in the world. Or, that it makes no difference whether this is really the case or not. In this way, the illusion of time can be hard to spot, and missed even when considered directly.

Now you could ask, so what? Who cares whether we see actual object or an extremely accurate image, it doesn’t matter, I can still reach out for a cup, catch a ball flying through the air or walk to, and then up, a distant mountain. The mechanics of vision work perfectly and do their job flawlessly so what does it matter whether we are seeing the object directly or just seeing the image?

The answer to this question is both generally speaking irrelevant to how most of us live our lives and also deeply significant if we happen to care about whether or not we correctly understand the world around us[19], and in this sense it is identical to the question of whether time exists or is just an illusion or misunderstanding as we shall see.

To see if, how and when it matters whether we are seeing an object or its image let's start by being very clear about the distinction between these two things.

 If you set up a candle in a dim room you can see the candle light clearly. If you put your finger in the flame of the candle you will receive a very sharp burning sensation because that is the nature of a flame.

If you hold a simple lens, between the candle and a nearby wall you will find that you can focus that part of the candle light that meets the disc of the lens back into a clear sharp image of the candle onto the wall.

But this ‘image’ of the candle on the wall is clearly not the actual physical candle itself. You can run a hand across the wall distorting the image without your hand getting obstructed or knocking the candle over and if you stab your finger at the image on the wall you will not get burnt, but you could break a nail instead.

When you set up a simple experiment like this you are in effect transporting yourself to the inside of a simple box camera because the image focused onto the wall is the same kind of image that is formed inside such a camera but within a camera the wall is replaced by a sheet of light sensitive film.

More to the point your own eye(s) are like a simple box camera, light enters the front and forms an image on the back wall, which in the case of your eye is your retina, and it is this projected image that you constantly see, as if the part of you that is capable of seeing is large array of sensors attached to the back wall of the camera.

So we have an actual candle on the table and the accurate and lively flickering image of the candle on the wall, and they are different things, likewise, when you walk around the world looking at the things around you, you are never seeing the ‘things’ themselves directly all you are actually seeing is the image of the things focused by the magnifying glass (your own eyes lens) on the wall (your own eyes retina).

Slow light.

You may have grasped this point now and if so you can see that in a very odd sense you and I wander around the world just like billions of blindfolded people playing blind man’s bluff, we cannot sense any ‘thing’ any distance away from our own bodies at all, no matter how strongly we feel that we can see distant objects this is not true,

Another way of understanding this is to imaging how it would be if light travelled very slowly, say 1 metre per second.

Now if you were looking straight in the direction of a bird on a tree branch 60 metres away you would be receiving images of that bird. However you would also be able to understand that while you were sensing the images ‘splashing’ onto you retina ‘here’, the bird itself may be somewhere else.

This would make sense to you (remember we are imagining light travelling very slowly) because you would be familiar with the idea that you only see images and not the external sources of those images.

[1] Another subtlety here is that although our misunderstanding involves us casually thinking about the light that lets us see as travelling in totally the opposite direction than it actually does, we may also still consider this complete misunderstanding to be not that important because we were ‘kind of right’. And while this human ability to be satisfied with ‘generally ok’ explanations can actually be very useful in many situations, when exposing persistent illusions it is a real hindrance unless made conscious.

[2] Be reflected by or emitted by the object and so on.

[3] Light doesn’t simple bounce or reflect, the effect involves intricate interactions with electrons and certain very rapid exchanges of energy.

[4] You can get a feel for this by looking at an ‘image’ coming out from the screen of a mobile phone in an otherwise dark room, then pointing the display away from your eyes and using it as a torch. Whatever you can see around you, you then must be being lit up by the original ‘image’, i.e. that same light, and original image has been reconfigured by whatever you are ‘lighting up’ with it .

[5] For simplicity the following section is written from the point of view of a person with normal working ‘stereo’ or binocular vision. If you are partially sighted, monocular or unsighted you should find that the following explanation still applies directly to the other senses, in particular hearing and touch, and you should still get the essence of the point I am making.


[6] As covered elsewhere, It is this image on our retinas that we see, we never actually see any object no matter how near or far from us it is.

[7] And of course this means it is covering all of ‘you’ and everything around itself with complete images of itself wherever there is a clear path for photons to travel.

[8] Every point on the surface of every object where it is reflecting or emitting photons.

[9] As long as your surroundings are lit.

[10] This doesn’t have to be a circle, but lenses are easier to make in nature and by hand if they are circular.

[11] Light can be considered as photon particles, or as waves.

[12] Abnormally, in the sense that unless you, a lens, someone, or something else were there intercepting the starlight or any other stream of light it would not be pulled back in to form an image of its source.

[13] Or more accurately an actual piece of itself, the starlight that enters your eye is part of the star, no matter what shape it happens to be in at present.

[14] The ‘aqueous humor’.

[15] This would only really work if you also held a small lens in front of the thumb pad to focus the light in a useful way.

[16] Or that which moves the sensitive hairs on our skin etc.

[17] I.e. in the case of sight our retinas. REPEATED

[18] In this case the focused image that falls on your retina.

[19] Especially if you are an astronomer who thinks looking at starlight is like looking back in time.