Cover image for Sight and sensibility : the ecopsychology of perception
Sight and sensibility : the ecopsychology of perception
Sewall, Laura, 1955-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : J.P. Tarcher/Putnam, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvii, 302 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
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BF321 .S45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in the connection between the human psyche and the natural environment. Fueled by a growing awareness of worldwide ecological degradation, an entirely new field of study, called ecopsychology, has emerged. At universities across the country, scientists are learning how the decline of our planet's environment affects not just our physical health but also our minds and emotions.Laura Sewall, Ph.D., is one of ecopsychology's pioneers and an expert in the study of the visual process. In combining these fields, she has determined that the sense of sight is key to understanding and potentially reversing the effects of ecological destruction. In Sight and Sensibility--the first book on ecopsychology for lay readers--Sewall draws on her fieldwork studying the visual behavior of baboons and teaching vision improvement to trace the evolution of human sight and the cultural development of different ways of seeing. She shows how we can restructure the neural networks that determine how we see, awaken to visual patterns and depth perception, and learn to see more of the world around us.A contemporary companion to John Berger's classic Ways of Seeing, Sight and Sensibility is a dazzling blend of science, psychology, and poetry.

Author Notes

Laura Sewall received her Ph.D. from Brown University in the psychology and neurophysiology of vision. She is a professor at Prescott College in Arizona, where she teaches courses in ecopyschology. She lectures across the country at universities and other sites, including the Naropa Institute and the Colorado Institute for a Sustainable Future. Sewall lives in Prescott, Arizona, and Durango, Colorado.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Sewall holds a Ph.D. in psychology and the neurophysiology of vision, a background that, coupled with her sensitivity to the state of the environment, has led her to the brave new field of ecopsychology, which is based on the premise that our species' relationship with nature has a lot to do with our emotional and spiritual health. She convincingly argues that today's high incidence of depression is linked, in part, to alienation from the natural world. She explains how this is possible by delving deeply into the workings of human eyes and of perception, which is as much about habits of mind as the play of light. Sewall contrasts the physiological effects of looking at manufactured objects, such as computers and television screens, versus the depth of vision used in gazing out at the horizon and offers intriguing theories about how this limited field of vision makes many people feel anxious, harried, and out of touch with nature, a dangerous condition that will foster yet further damage to the nurturing earth. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Sewall calls herself "a kind of mystic scientist" (she holds a Ph.D. in psychology and the neurophysiology of vision from Brown), a characterization that could easily apply to her field, ecopsychology. Her focus is on research that indicates that visual experiences can alter the structure of neural networks in the brain's neocortex. Because we selectively filter visual information through these memory-laden channels, Sewall believes that our perceptual habits mold and perpetuate our worldview, unless we consciously choose to attend to what we've overlooked. Swinging between lyrical introspection, epiphanies in nature, sociocultural commentary and analysis of the psychology of perception, she attempts to nudge the reader toward making that perceptual shift. Readers who can get past her New Age effusions may otherwise appreciate her style, which hovers somewhere between Annie Dillard and Ken Wilber, and will find some stimulating nuggets. A professor of ecopsychology at Prescott University in Arizona, Sewall points to a host of factors that blunt the average person's sensory awareness, including TV, fragmented lifestyles, ego-based projection and the mind/body disconnect bequeathed to us by Plato. Much of her inquiry flows from engagement with the ideas of James Hillman, John Berger, environmental philosopher David Abram and others. In Sewall's upbeat scenario, many people will adopt new ways of seeing and meditating that will awaken them to the interdependence of all living things. How exactly this will solve the global ecological crisis, as Sewall hopes, remains an open question. Illustrated. Agent, Anne Depue. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Forewordp. xiii
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 Varieties of Visual Experiencep. 21
Chapter 2 Numb and Not-Noticing: How the Modern Eye Seesp. 65
Chapter 3 Mindful Eyes: Seeing as If the World Mattersp. 95
Chapter 4 Minding the Relations: Contrast, Qualities, and Patternsp. 121
Chapter 5 Genuine Depth: Beyond Binocularity, Time, Space, and Fearp. 161
Chapter 6 Visionary Practice: Reversing the Worldp. 199
Chapter 7 Looking for a Worldviewp. 241
Notesp. 275
Selected Bibliographyp. 284
Indexp. 297