One book I remember vividly from my childhood was a thick hardcover volume called The Giant Paddington Story Book.
I don’t remember a single one of the stories. I hated this book for the most bizarre reason. Even as an adult I have no fondness for Paddington Bear, and it all comes back to this book… and the way that I see things.
The cover of the book was thick, glossy laminated card. The colours were designed to pop and amuse children, the problem was, they ‘popped’ for me more than was comfortable.
The intensity and saturation of the colours, and the contrast between the red and the blue made it seem as though the red text was moving. Around the page and coming out at me, the letters shook like they were made of jelly and suspended on springs.
That is the first time I remember being significantly upset and questioning whether there was a part of me that was broken or not. I don’t think I was much older than four or five.
Visual perception is a tricky thing to talk about, because we each believe that what we see is the standard human experience. So I’m interested to see who else sees things in the way I do. Here are a few aspects of my visual perception that may be out of the ordinary.
I experience ‘visual snow’.
This is when you see a thin ‘overlay’ of fine, multicoloured specks–almost like TV static–across your entire field of vision. It persists even when my eyes are closed. It feels almost as if you’re almost able to see the particles that make up everything in life, the tiniest bits that make up the whole, though you can never examine them in close detail.
I’m told it’s similar to the coloured clouds you may see over your vision if you close your eyes and press gently on your eyelids, or for those of you who experience migraine auras, something like that. There’s no pain associated with it.
I get pretty insane afterimages
This means that when I look away from something, especially something in high contrast, the negative imprint remains as an ‘afterimage‘ in my vision. For example, when I shift my glance now, I can see the negative illusion of my monitor super-imposed over my wardrobes. It starts as a nice green (my monitor border is gloss black) and then fades to blue and out again.
If I switch my gaze multiple times in a second, those imprints stick and overlay. It’s kind of like watching a poorly tuned TV.
Afterimages are the cause of a few popular visual illusions. Stare at the four dots on the image below for 45-60 seconds, and then move your gaze to something bright (a blank white wall, a sheet of paper etc).
You should start to see a circle with an image in it. That’s an afterimage! The difference for me is I don’t need 45-60 seconds–I’ve got Jesus afterimages all over my vision because my gaze keeps shifting while I type. I only need a second at most for a persistent image to form.
It can get annoying, and is probably one of the many reasons I dislike excessive contrast and very bright areas. More contrast means more intense afterimages.
I don’t read ‘properly’.
Maybe the last thing anyone expected me to admit to, but I do actually have trouble reading! In part due to the afterimages that text causes, and also because of the way that I read.
Most kids when they learn to read, learn words as letters first. The process of building the word from letters into sounds, and sounds into word blocks is the foundation of literacy in schools. Well… I skipped that.
No one is sure exactly when or how I ‘learned’ to read, only that by the time I started school I was carrying around Enid Blyton chapter books. I’ve discovered lately that I read more by the shape of the word than by the letters that make it. This means that I can read extremely fast with good comprehension–so long as the words take the shape I’m expecting them to.
Words with similar shape I often get confused, and my brain corrects the sentences so that they are appropriate to the context of what I’m reading. I don’t do so well reading aloud, as that means my brain doesn’t get to apply all of those corrections before they come out of my mouth. Can be awkward!
If words are in a font I’m not used to (especially sans serif), are in all capitals (where the shape of words becomes less defined), or if the contrast between the paper and ink is too high, I’m going to have some problems.
This is exactly how I read ‘ST JOHN OF GOD RAPIST CHURCH’ when I should have seen BAPTIST.
Ask me to copy unfamiliar text from one source to another, and it will be riddled with errors. Names are problematic in that I’m not familiar enough with the ‘shape’ to ‘see’ the spelling properly. Strings of numbers all look the same to me, and require a lot of concentration to get them down right. I very rarely see when I’ve got it wrong, either–my brain has told me what is on the paper, and I believe that my version is correct. Until someone points out the error, or I return to the task after a break (and my perceptions have had time to fade and reset), I’m not able to spot where I’ve gone wrong.
On the upside, my early experience with the form and structure of the English language makes it very easy for me to spot errors in other people’s work. It looks wrong. It doesn’t fit the ‘shape’ that I’m expecting. Now that I’ve done more study on grammar, I know why it’s wrong–but for most of my life it was an intuitive gut feel that something just wasn’t right.
Yep. The words still float.
As with the Paddington book, I still experience those ‘floating’, ‘shaking’ words. It happens more when I’m tired, when I’ve been reading a lot, or when there’s high contrast. It happens to some extent all the time, and not just with text. Right now, the edges where my screen meets the monitor border are a wobble of sharp black and white.
They’re also edged in lime and magenta, and appear to lift off the page. Like this.
Then it starts to move and looks a little more like this:
Not as choppy as that, but you get the idea!
And these are absolutely doing my head in right now.
So that’s my visual world–or at least part of it. What parts can you relate to? I’m curious to know how much of this is standard, and what isn’t.