Thursday, September 08, 2016

vertigo and reconstructing 3-D visual space using an old Renaissance painting trick

Shortly after eating lunch, after a longish bike ride that felt good, I realized I was starting to experience spinning in my visual field. Any time I looked at the top of the TV, it began to rotate slowly clockwise. Every blink, it would return to the more-or-less horizontal and begin rotating again at the same rate. The corner of the two walls was doing the same, but perhaps because of the prism of my glasses, the wall was bent toward the top and rotated more quickly. By about 4 o’clock, and then again after a brief period of feeling better, at 6, for about an hour, the symptoms were worse.

Proprioceptively, it was difficult to feel the orientation and position of my body. I say “my body” specifically because there was a certain alienation going on. While embodied, while there, while feeling that my head and legs were somewhere, and somewhere in relation to one another, there was a feeling of this being abnormal, and not normalizable, not correctible. Even eyes closed, lying like a corpse with my arms folded over my chest as I do when the vertigo strikes, with no visual twisting of the world to relate to, the world was not there for me and I could not tell how to enter into it.      

So I lie there. Every so often my head would seem to be in the wrong place, and I would shift slightly. The wrong place here means that it would feel unbalanced, one side lower or higher, or caving in, losing density or else imploding in density. No matter what, my legs felt like they were not straight out from my torso. I asked Lauren to straighten my legs for me, because, lying on my back, I felt them to be angled at the hips to the left. She moved my legs to the left—meaning, if they were angled, it was to the right.

After a while, I was able to get up. Drugs I’d taken earlier may have been kicking in. As I stood up, I caught myself about to fall again. I couldn’t balance spontaneously. I also couldn’t look out to determine how to balance myself, without seeing the slow rotation effect among the visual world, which would make balance impossible.

I made a discovery later on, that I could stabilize visual space by holding my hand about 10-12 inches from my face, allowing my eyes to avoid focusing on objects in my visual field. While I held my gaze at my hand, without focusing on it, either, other objects came into view in the periphery, obviously not in focus at all, but holding steady. I interpret this as a re-construction of 3-d visual space, like the use of perspective grids in Renaissance painting. As I adjusted further, I was able to focus more on the visual field and even on objects at distances from 2 to 10 feet, as long as my hand was still in my visual field to anchor it and produce the perspective effect. That is, the construction of 3-d space was not permitted by the mere stabilizing of visual field by having a piece of it that seemed to rotate counter-clockwise (i.e., with my vertiginous body) against the visual field, putting a kind of brake on it, but by giving a spot around which to re-organize space, a reference point.

3-d visual space is not usually constructed actively. We who are visual spontaneously occupy it, but not strictly visually, and this is something we don't usually understand about it. One value of the phenomenological account of perception is to help us notice the projection of being-in-the-world that is responsible for there to be a world of things that solicit our attention and action. This world we enter wholly, of a piece, rather than piecemeal. 3-D is not merely visual; it is aural, tactile, atmospherically tactile (e.g., sense-feeling of air pressure, current), and above all, oriented through the embodied orientation that our living perception is

When something has gone wrong in our ordinary orientation, then we have to construct this world actively. (This effort is exhausting, it turns out.) 

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