Do you see what I see?
Picture this if you can. You stand before a cat, your eyes open. The light that is reflected from this cat travels through your pupils hitting the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye. Here its photoreceptors convert that light into electrical impulses. Next a highway to the brain is created for travel by way of the optic nerve. The brain then converts these signals into what lies before us. The cat.
Vision, common to many species, operates pretty much in the same way, give or take a few rods or cones. But then it gets interesting, as our busy brains cannot help but be just that –busy. Wanting to have a bit more skin in the game, they chime in.
Adding their ten cents worth in a desperate need to create homeostasis, all sorts of spin will come into play. And when it does, the world once more will make sense to us. Alas though, this is not always a true reflection of what we see, moreover it is often a reflection of what we want to see.
You know the story: ten people witness an accident and instead of the police being relayed ten identical accounts of what just played out, the car that was red becomes blue, the man wearing a hat has morphed into an old lady with an umbrella, there was a dog, there was not a dog, and so on.
Or then there is the double word test. Where a sentence is written with a deliberately repeated word, however upon reading the sentence back, our brains “kindly” instantly delete the additional word in order for the sentence to make sense.
Whilst brains and eyes are pretty cool things and greatly assist us with living, they too can cloud our judgement and warp our perceptions, and in doing so prevent us from seeing clearly what, or, more often than not, who stands before us. Or, in the case of the cat, one whose stance quickly shifts to nonchalantly washing their butt.
Or perhaps you don’t. That is the thing. Whilst the animal remains exactly who they are, it is the perception of the animal that changes depending on who you talk to (and when, where and why). Oscillating between beloved feline or demonic ruinator of the planet (although truth be told some would argue that title belongs to we humans) our perceptions are at play as to our view of the “moggie”.
A means of testing perception, developed in 1921, and taking its name from its originator, Hermann Rorschach, is the Rorschach Test. It was designed as a projective psychological test to assess one’s cognition and personality. Here, subjects are asked to describe what they see in a series of ambiguous inkblot tests. Their view offers insight into a person’s state of mind. Although considered unreliable by some, a major criticism comes by way of one’s perception of the subject’s perception.
Inkblot test or not, what we do see varies from person to person based on experiences, beliefs, values, education, circumstance, culture, physical abilities, prejudices and more. You see, nothing is as it seems. To see with a clear heart and open mind is indeed the vanguard of our most noble self.
What we see in the world is so often skewed, not by squinting eyes, but factors that bear no relevance to what (or who) we see. This is especially so when it comes to animals. Rather than seeing them objectively, they become victims, for many sadly cruelly so, of our subjective view. Our familiarity with them, the form they have taken, and our intended use of them shapes this blinkered view. All things that have nothing to do with who they are as living, breathing, feeling beings.
As a result, perceptions trigger our moral concern for those animals we see as endearing and cute, with our compassion restricted for those animals we see as sources of food and fibre. And heaven help those who are seen as pests. To have the courage, wisdom and compassion to move away from this will trigger alarm bells that will greatly disrupt our perception of ourselves.
Viewing animals, the way we currently do, as friend or food, brings homeostasis to our conscience. But so too it wreaks havoc, hardship and heartbreak onto the lives of countless sentient beings who have done nothing to deserve this.
Yet the positive ramifications for wiping our eyes, hearts and minds clear, for taking our view of the world from a kinder, more just lens and living our lives through a wholehearted truth will enable better and more harmonious lives for all.
Once this is achieved, seeing will more than believing a compassionate world is possible. It will be a reality.
Pictured: Mrs Sylvester, aka Mumma Cat. Please raise your hand if you can see her fluffy mobile Rorschach test depicting two pigs greeting at one another.