You’re blind. I’m sorry you had to find out this way, but it’s true. You might be thinking, “How could I possibly be blind if I’m reading this?” Well, you’re only somewhat blind. What am I prattling on about? Blinking.
We spend roughly six seconds out of every minute in what cognitive scientists call “blinking suppression”—a feedback loop that works to inhibit our awareness of having our eyes closed. Our minds suppress our blinking awareness, because blinks are a nuisance, a burden; they interrupt the flow of of our vision. We cannot go about our daily lives with co-workers popping their heads in to ask questions every few seconds (even if that is what they do). Vision is no different. And vision, as it turns out, is very valuable to our cognition.
Neuroscientists estimate that as much as ⅔ of our brains’ activity is associated with vision. While there are some semantics to this estimate, even if our brains’ dedicated ½ of their resources to vision, that certainly qualifies as a valued focus. Yet, we spend 10% of our waking hours with our eyes closed, not seeing anything—blind.
During a two hour movie, there are twelve minutes that we never see. Poof—gone with the wind! And we’re none the wiser. Our brains pretend that we saw the whole thing. Not only are we unaware of what we’re missing, but we’re better for it.
Without tears, eyes dry to the point of irritation, pain, and even permanent damage. The lacrimal gland (sitting just behind the eyebrow) has one primary role—to produces tears to keep our eyes hydrated and functioning. Maybe the lacrimal gland and blinking are the silent heroes of this story. Vision may get all the glory, but what is visual processing if there’s no visual input?
There are other silent heroes in our lives, namely “boredom.” Most of us spend more than ⅔ of our time awake (and nearly all of that time doing something). Silence must be filled with music, podcasts, or video. Sitting quietly, not doing anything has become an affront to modern life. Try it and a person gets agitated; their gaze darting, looking for something, anything that might distract them from the painful state of not doing.
But remember, just as our eyes require periodic rest, so do we. It is important to pause, take stock, and not do. If we spend 10% of our time blind, perhaps we should spend at least that much bored. Six minutes per hour is all it would require. And on that note, it’s time to stop, put the screens away, and close our eyes.
Nakano, Tamami, et al. “Synchronization of spontaneous eyeblinks while viewing video stories.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences (2009): rspb20090828. Source