August 4, 2020

Learning to See Again

Guest Opinion
By Isiah Smith | May 4, 2019

Americans generally trust journalists about as much as they trust roadside sushi stands. Just because the salmon rolls look good doesn’t mean you ought to be eating them. The news we consume can be as unhealthy as raw fish gone bad. And “news” can take up parasitic residence in our minds and impair our vision.

FOX News fans swear MSNBC fans are already blind. People who consume steady diets of MSNBC “know” that FOX fans wouldn’t see the truth if they stumbled over it and fell. Partisan politics can hijack the mind; you might as well be blind.

 It’s so easy to accuse other people of being blind while bragging about how clear our own vision is. A closed mind is like a blackhole so dense that nothing can escape its gravitational pull. In such darkness, little can be clearly seen.

I know a thing or two about not seeing things clearly because I’ve seen a thing or two. Or not.
Last November I underwent a number of surgical procedures on my eyes that doctors assured me were simple, straightforward, and common. And indeed, everything seemed fine at first. True, my vision didn’t improve, but then again, it didn’t seem any worse than before the procedures. No harm, no foul, right? That is, unless you consider the extra expense not covered by my otherwise excellent insurance.

But over the next few days, things started going downhill. First, what looked like a swarm of bees started obstructing my vision. Every day the swarm grew larger, and reading got harder and more challenging.

One morning I woke from a troubled dream and “saw” something I’d never seen before: shadowy, web-like figures floating across my visual field. It was like looking at ghosts through cracked glass.

The webs and black dots (aka floaters) joined forces and danced a tango across my visual field. This would have been amusing, except it wasn’t. I felt the way Gregor Samas, in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, must have felt when he awoke finding himself transformed into a huge insect and had to adjust to his new condition.

My ophthalmologist said this new condition didn’t usually follow the procedures, but, well, it could. (Nowhe tells me?). He also said the floaters and webs “might” go away, or, if not, my brain “might” adjust, and learn to ignore them.

But my brain wasn’t having any of this; things got worse every day. My ophthalmologist prescribed patience.


In Miami, I sought a second opinion at Bascom Palmer, the No. 1 eye institute in the United States. Many Palmer doctors attended my alma mater, which I found encouraging. But those doctors agreed with my Traverse City ophthalmologist. (Kudos to you, Traverse City!)

Undaunted and unsatisfied (hey, whose eyes are these, anyway?), I next consulted The Center for Excellence in Eye Care at Baptist Hospital in Miami. Many of the doctors at Baptist are also fellow alums of The U, so, there was some comfort in that.

Baptist ophthalmologists agreed with all the other doctors. So, back in TC, I contacted the Kellogg Eye Institute at that other UM, in Ann Arbor.

Seeing clearly is hard, even under the best of circumstances. Physicists, philosophers, psychologists, and writers have killed entire forests trying to explain why we see things that are not there, or fail to see what’s staring us right in the face. The German quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg concocted an entire theory around that idea, the uncertainty principle. This principle says that what we think we see is not really what’s there. Rather, the very act of observing a thing changes the thing being observed.

The floaters and cobwebs seem to be “out there,” but they actually exist only inside of me.

Prejudice, bigotry, and bias work the same way. I’m learning to see past the internal distractions. It’s not easy, but I persist. The results are mixed. There are times when everything seems clear; other times, not so much. But I still try to “play” tennis. At times I even manage to make solid contact with the ball.

I started to wonder, what if we could train our brains to “see” other things in life differently. What if we could see around the cobwebs and floaters that we carry around inside our heads that cause us to see and believe things that are not real?  What are we missing by focusing on our prejudices and preconceived notions to the exclusion of reality?

Some really bright, well-educated people abandon their rational minds when the conversation veers into sacred territories where their well-formed ideas and opinions live. Then, they began to babble nonsense, drivel, and half-baked ideas.

Cable “news” stations, with their talking heads, are little more than noisy floaters and annoying cobwebs. The more we watch them, the less objective and rational we become. There’s nothing fair and balanced about any of them. They simply stake out sacred sides and blind their viewers to all other “news” sources that disagreed with their “news.”

I now notice my unwanted intruders less and less every day. As Marcel Proust said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

I cancelled the appointment in Ann Arbor. Reality trumps voluntary blindness.

Isiah Smith Jr. is a former newspaper columnist for the Miami Times. He worked as a psychotherapist before attending the University of Miami Law School, where he also received a master’s degree in psychology. In December 2013, he retired from the Department of Energy’s Office of General Counsel, where he served as a deputy assistant general counsel for administrative litigation and information law. Smith lives in Traverse City with his wife, Marlene.


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