Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

Archive for April, 2017

Chastity, the Brain, and the Eye Chart

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

by Vincent Weaver, Director of Programs and Training, Family Honor

As a young boy, I was fascinated to see that if you held up a piece of curved glass in front of the reflection of an image at just the right distance, you’d see the image upside down. Then, I learned that our eyes work much the same way. If it weren’t for our brains being wired correctly, we would see the world upside down. Here’s the fascinating explanation from Michael Brady at NCSU, Raleigh (from the website):

It is true that the images formed on your retina are upside-down. It is also true that most people have two eyes, and therefore two retinas. Why, then, don’t you see two distinct images? For the same reason that you don’t see everything upside-down. One of our most remarkable tools – the brain – is hard at work for us at this task.

Processing visual information is a complex task – it takes up a relatively large portion of the brain compared to other senses. This is because your brain performs several tasks to make images ‘easier’ to see. One, of course, is combining the two images, which is helped by the corpus callosum, the tiny part of your brain which joins the two big hemispheres. The other part is handled in the optic part of your brain itself, and part of its job is to make images right-side-up. It does this because your brain is so USED to seeing things upside-down that it eventually adjusts to it. After all, it’s a lot easier to flip the image over than it is to try and coordinate your hands and legs with an upside-down world! As a result, though, it is believed that for the first few days, babies see everything upside-down. This is because they have not become used to vision.

Your brain CAN be retrained though. In one psychological study, participants were asked to wear inverting lenses – lenses that invert the image BEFORE they get to your eye, so that when your eye inverts it, it’s right-side-up. At first, everything appeared upside-down to the participants. But, after a few days, people began to report that everything appeared right-side-up! As a second part of the study, the people were asked to take the glasses off. Because they were now used to the lenses, their NORMAL vision appeared upside-down!! Within a day, though, their vision returned to normal. The reason you don’t see everything upside-down, then, is simply because it’s easier to think about right-side-up!

So, what does this have to do with ‘chastity’? If you ask most people what chastity means, they’ll likely mention abstinence or modesty, or maybe even a mention of Medieval times and ‘chastity belts’.  Though there is a connection to abstinence and modesty, there’s much more to chastity than just this. It’s about how we ‘see’ ourselves and others.

Thanks to getting involved with “Family Honor”, I’ve come to have a much better understanding of this very misunderstood virtue. Chastity has a lot in common with how our eyes work, actually. As we experience the culture in which we live, without even knowing it we find ourselves immersed in a view of human sexuality and of ourselves which is inverted. It’s like the ‘correction’ of the image hasn’t taken place, but we don’t even realize it. Seeing things upside down is just “normal”, because our brains haven’t been retrained.

“You are what you eat” goes way beyond food. If we pour garbage images about sex into our brains – in what music we listen to, in what we see on the Internet, in what movies/TV shows we watch, in what we read – we wire our brains to view human sexuality in a distorted, inverted fashion. Chastity involves consistently pouring purity – genuinely good things – into our brains. That leads to pure thoughts, pure words, and pure actions regarding sexuality. This literally affects the way our brains work (and grow). Inversely, pouring ‘garbage’ into our brains – especially visual images – stunts and disrupts brain growth. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall SEE God”! Chastity is that virtue which literally enables us to see God in ourselves and in others. Chastity corrects our vision. It resensitizes us to recognizing that which is distorted and ugly and unnatural, and gives us a real appreciation for truth, goodness, and beauty.

Maybe it’s time to visit the optometrist? He may be the one wearing the Roman collar.