Cycle 43: Eye to I

The I-less Cosmos

13.7 billion years ago
The Big Bang gives birth to an eyeless universe. Seeing backwards, the bedazzled cosmologist beholds a blinding beginning.

5 billion years ago
The sun – cosmic eye – blinks open. The circling darkness becomes visible.

4.5 billion years ago
The sun winks the earth into existence. Time and chance spin it toward its blue destiny.

4 billion years ago
Struck by lightning, blind matter stumbles into life.

200 million years ago
Mammals evolve. Countless eyes envision countless worlds twinkling in and out of existence.

Galileo falls in love with the moon.

5 billion years from now
The swelling sun, voracious red eye, swallows the third planet - or spits it out into the darkling cold. Will there be living eyes to see the earth’s plunge into final fire or frigidity?

Eye Opening

. Unicellular organisms evolve a light-sensitive eye spot that can detect light and shadow.

Chiaroscuro world. Here shadows illuminate as much as light.

. . Inward dimpling of the eye spot increases visual acuity by forming a pit that determines the direction of a light source.

Navigating seas of light, cunning worm of twists and turns.

. . . The rim of the eye pit constricts, creating an aperture. Like a pinhole camera, this eye can now form images.

Click. A wave coming. Click. A wave going. Seeing more, the nautilus also saw less. The flatworm’s eye was simply in the world; the nautilus’s eye doubled it - the beginning of thinking and its confusions.

. . . . The eye pit fills with clear jelly.

“Lest it see more, prevent it. Out vile jelly where is thy lustre now?”

. . . . . A lens is added to the eye pit.

What makes your eyes retract? To focus on this or that is to be blind to everything that’s not this, not that. Who decides what my eyes will focus on? Not I.

. . . . . . The lens acquires a higher refractive index at the center than at the edges.

Emotions are lenses, refracting what is seen: Different joys, different fears project divergent worlds.

. . . . . . . Color vision develops.

An orange is not orange, an orange is not an orange. (Gertrude Stein agrees.)

Written by Light

1249      Eyeglasses      Anonymous

Before Marco Polo.

1250      Magnifying glass      Roger Bacon

Alchemist and monk, Roger Bacon magnified the world - and inadvertently shrank God.

1590      Microscope      Hans and Zacharias Jansen

Peeping through eyepieces, father and son swung between fascination and disgust: these bodies we call ours are not ours.

1608      Telescope      Hans Lippershey

Priests instinctively understood that the telescope was more dangerous than any heresy, more subversive than 10,000 Galileos. It’s a wonder the telescope didn’t make atheists of us all. (The frightened pope should have known – the eye sees what the mind believes.)

1822      Metal photography      Joseph Niépce

Ever since photography, life has become more and more unreal. (Also death.)

1851      Ophthalmoscope      Hermann von Helmholtz

The eye fascinated by itself.

1895      Cinema      Lumière brothers

Cinema made reality flicker, making the twentieth century a century of dreams. (Whose dreams are you living in?)

1895      X rays      Wilhelm Roentgen

To see the dead in the living, the living in the dead.

1929      Electron microscope      Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska

Reality passes into the invisible. Climax of humanity’s vanishing act.

1937      Radio telescope      Grote Reber

The age of Odysseus. We are all time travelers.

1938      Iconoscope (TV camera)      Vladimir Zworykin

Andy Warhol was eight years old.


February 5, 1879.      Joseph Swan invents carbon-filament light bulb.

Joseph Swan? Swallowed by darkness and by Thomas Edison’s PR machine.

February 22.      Woolworth’s (the first chain store) opens in New York.

125 years later, a Starbuck’s on every street corner. (And 125 years from now?)

March 14.     Albert Einstein born.

Seeing at the speed of mind, he saw – everything is energy.

May 16.      Treaty between Russia and England sets up state of Afghanistan.

Even the stone Buddhas saw the coming terror.

July 4.      Zulu-British war in South Africa ends.

Squint-eyed warmongers defending the black-and-white logic of war.

September 4.      Establishment of dual French and British control of Egypt.

The eyes of empire have always been bigger than its stomach.

September 10.      Pacific Coast Oil Company (later ChevronTexaco) founded.

Iraq is in ruins. The polar icecaps are melting. What is George W. Bush (not) seeing?

October 2.      Wallace Stevens born.

Thirteen ways of looking at the nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

October 7.      Alliance formed between Germany and Austria.

Waiting for Gavrilo.

December 18.     Paul Klee born.

December 21.      Joseph Stalin born.

He wanted to burn his terrible vision into the eyes of history.

A Portrait of the Escape Artist as a Young Eye

1970      Hawaii Five-O
1971      The Wonderful World of Disney
1972      The Waltons
1973      The Six Million Dollar Man
1974      Little House on the Prairie
1975      Starsky and Hutch
1976      Charlie’s Angels
1977      The Love Boat
1978      Mork and Mindy
1979      That’s Incredible!
1980      Diff’rent Strokes
1981      Falcon Crest
1982      Knight Rider
1983      The A-Team
1984      The Cosby Show
1985      Night Court
1986      Moonlighting
1987      The Wonder Years
1988      Alf
1989      Cheers
1990      The Golden Girls
1991      Home Improvement

<< Part XI: Polyhistories
>> Playing by Ear
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