Book Review, Inner World, Thoughts on the profession

See Like a Whale

I am thinking of whales.  Of their gigantic eyes.  And how these eyes have nothing to do with how they see.

Well, not exactly nothing, but certainly not as much as our eyes.

I am reading a new book, The Left Brain Speaks, The Right Brain Laughs by Ransom Stephens.  Despite the inaccurate duality in the title, it is (so far) a very clear and correct description of how our brains gather and process information.  In a section abut vision, Stephens talks about how whales see.

photography of whale tail in body of water
Photo by Daniel Ross on

Whales use sonar to create a picture of their surroundings.  Their eyes, like our own, are unable to see clearly in the depths of the ocean, so they rely on sounding out their surroundings.  In many ways, their sonar is much more accurate than our own limited vision.  For example, a clever scenic artist can easily convince us that a piece of painted cardboard is a heavy oaken door.  A whale would never make that mistake.  Their sonar sends them information about the weight and composition of objects that we rely on our sense of touch to gather.  Whales are, in a sense, able to see through objects and other creatures, into their core.  Whales know immediately when another whale is pregnant, or if a creature has a tumor or some other internal growth.  Their sonar adjusts the internal picture for all of these changes.

I am a creature of metaphor, and this particular whale fact set my associative brain to work.  What if, I thought, what if we tried to see like whales?  Not to invade someone’s privacy by peering inside their bodies, but what if we tried to see beyond the pictures our eyes show us?  What if the shapes, sizes, colors and impressions we gather upon looking at someone were never enough for us and we felt compelled to look beyond?

I love this idea.  And not just because I am a sucker for science-based metaphors.  I love this idea as a way to relate to other humans.  To see like a whale, looking beyond the surface and into whatever truth sits peacefully beyond the pictures my eyes send me.  This seems like a skill worth developing.  Whale vision.  Sounding out the environment.  Looking beyond.

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