Perception Of Space

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During this time of lockdown and/or self-isolation, it's tempting for those of us content with our own company to sit tight indoors and wait it out. But I'm reminding of some stories told to me by my friend Laurie Brokenshire.

Laurie was a genuinely fascinating man. Humble and modest, he had a degree in maths, an OBE, had swum the channel, was a member of The Magic Circle, had been a submariner, and had been Commodore of HMS Raleigh. He was also regarded as the world's best solver of mechanical puzzles (yes, really), and had a collection of over 50 thousand of them.

He and his wife fostered over 80 children.

There's more, but that's enough to give you an idea, and you can read more on his Wikipedia page:

My wife Rachel and I were staying with Laurie, and during conversation he made an interesting observation. I don't remember his exact words, so I'll paraphrase:

  • The first week after you return from a three month tour of duty in a submarine, it's nearly impossible to focus on anything more than 10 metres away.

The point is that when you've spent three months in a space where nothing is more than 10 metres away, your eyes haven't been exercised, and start to lose their ability to adapt to distance.

Three months in a confined space ... sound familiar?

But wait ... there's more!

But there's another effect that's a little more subtle.

When you move around in a space you use the surrounding physical cues to keep you oriented. Effects like the one at "Magnetic Hill" (Magnetic Hill on Wikipedia) are an example of how this can go wrong, and there are several optical illusions based on this.

But if you've spent three months in a space with walls and a ceiling, your brain adapts to using those to orient you. And if they are then taken away, you can become disoriented and suffer from vertigo and a lack of balance.

Hmm ... three months with walls and a ceiling ... does that sound familiar?


Again, for those of us content with our own company it's just oh so tempting to stay in and simply not go out at all.

But don't succumb to the temptation. Go out, take a walk, experience the very high ceiling, and the walls that are just so much further away.

It really does matter.

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