11/19/2012 04:14 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2013

Seeing With Your Heart

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Watch Beau Lotto's talk above on optical illusions and how information can differ depending on perception.

What do you see? Do we perceive the world in a similar way?

In his groundbreaking research, Beau Lotto posits that the visual brain -- what we see -- is not defined by its essential properties but by its past ecological interactions with the world. We redefine normality based on what we deem useful to see. Through his art-sci experiments and public illusions, Lotto reveals a deeper understanding of how we view the world.

Yet, beyond a contribution to science, Lotto's theory raises a more existential question with greater resonance to our lives.

Do we possess sight or insight?

The question leads in two life affirming directions.

The first dimension underscores our perception of nature and the definition of a miracle. The dictionary defines a miracle as "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs or an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment."

Two different people can experience the same event yet one can perceive the Divine and another remains blinded by the awesome reality. How can that be?

The answer emerges in recognizing, as Lotto suggests, that our vision is driven less by our essential ability to see but by our cultivated perceptions. The more frequent an event, the less we see its divinity. Imagine a person with a kidney stone. The intensity of the pain awakens a renewed appreciation for the routine functioning of his body. For this human being, he perceives a miracle.

What about us? Cultivating a sense of gratitude in life insures a life of "amazement" and a life of joy.

When we arise in the morning and take a breath, do we appreciate the gift of life? Do we see the miraculous in the common? Do we possess the insight of the great poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes -- The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries."

The second dimension reorients our attitude to life. Do we see the problems or the possibilities? Do we envision obstacles or opportunities?

The following parable crystallizes the idea. Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room's only window. The other man had to spend all his time on his back.

The men talked for hours on end. Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

"This window overlooks a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans play on the water while children sail their model boats." the man by the window said. "Young lovers walk arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline can be seen in the distance."

While the man by the window described this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene. His smile growing with every new piece of detail told to him.

One afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although, the other man couldn't hear the band, any commotion or excitement --- he could see it.

One morning, the day nurse entered the room to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. Slowly and painfully, the man propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside that he had heard so much about. He strained to slowly look out the window.

It faced a blank wall.

The man was confused and somewhat disappointed. He looked forward to seeing all the wonderful things his roommate had described to him. The park, the lake, the ducks and swans. None of that could be seen from the bedside window.

Feeling a little frustrated the man asked the nurse, "What could have compelled my roommate to lie to me like he did? He described such wonderful things outside this window but nothing he spoke of can be seen. All that is visible is that ugly grey blank wall. Why did he lie to me?"

"Didn't he tell you?" the nurse responded, "He was blind so he couldn't see the wall. But maybe he described such wonderful things because they were visions in his mind and he wanted to encourage you?'

The man laid back on his bed and let out a sigh as he softly said, "Yes, that he did." Then he whispered to himself, "Thank you for sharing your wonderful world, my friend."

What is the nature of your reality?

Remember the words of Helen Keller who wrote, "the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched -- they must be felt with the heart."

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