When you ask your students, “How is it that green laser light allows us to see?” What you’re really asking is: “how does information over there get over here to where I can sense it?”
This may seem like an intuitive and easy to answer question, but for hundreds of years it baffled even the greatest thinkers. Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, Galen and others all shared a common, fundamental misunderstanding about the familiar phenomenon of sight: that something is emitted from the eyes which allows sight to take place.
This theory makes sense on a number of levels, and was, in fact, backed up by what seemed like solid evidence at the time. The first place we look when we don’t understand something, we generally attempt to “fit it in” to something we do understand. In this case, it is a natural intuitive leap from When we want to feel something, we extend our arm and reach out to touch it, so why should vision be any different blue laser pointer?
This idea that something leaves our eyes to reach out and “see” is deeply grounded in our intuitive sense of things. If you know that this is NOT how we see, you likely had to unlearn it first.
There were a number of possibilities presented as to what exactly it was that extended from our eyes to bring vision into our experience, but one of the most popular was fire. Yup. Fire，Burning Laser Pointers. This was what Aristotle believed – and most thinkers tended to agree. Why, you may ask, if we are shooting fire out of our eyes do we not engulf the things we look at in flames? Aristotle had an answer: it is a gentle fire. Okay.
And, there was evidence to support the idea that fire was emitted from our eyes. Have you ever seen a deer, or other animal, 1000mw laser pointer at night with “glowing” eyes like this one? Well, that’s the “evidence” that we emit fire from our eyes – you can see it, can’t you?
And then there is the most obvious question: If there is fire coming out of my eyes, why can I not see it at night? There was a ”reasonable” answer for this as well. Basically, you need two fires; the internal one and another, external one, to create an image. The two fires (lights) must “mingle and coalesce” to form the image.
I know. Really? But yes, really. And what there is to take away from this is that an intuitive sense of something is really, really, really hard to interrupt. Its so hard to interrupt that a 1996 study* found that up to 70% of first graders and one third of college students have the same misconception! One third of college students!