The Four Sees

If you’re fortunate enough to have a new baby in your life you already know how he or she constantly brings moments of joyful discovery.  Here is one that recently startled me.  From about their first birthday, babies respond to eye cues more than head direction cues.  This is really quite amazing.  What this means is that when I direct my face towards the left but move my eyes to look right, the baby follows my eyes not my head!

Animals don’t do this.  They are very alert to the direction that the head of another animal is facing but seem oblivious to eye movement.  Most animals including baboons and chimpanzees will glance in the direction they see a human looking.  But if a person faces one direction and moves his eyes to another, the primate will follow the face not the eyes.  (A dog may be an exception here, but I’ll discuss that in the future.) In fact, we seldom see any animal looking in any direction it is not facing.

Of course, it is not only babies who seem to be cued significantly by people’s eyes.  We adults do that all the time.  Regardless of the direction a person’s head is facing, we watch the eyes.  A politician may be facing you and speaking to you, but watch his eyes glance over your shoulder to spot someone more important.  A flirtatious glance is revealed by the eyes.  Sometimes, people roll their eyes to reveal disdain.

But why are our eyes so much more revealing than those of animals?  It turns out that no creature on the planet has as much white of the eye as do we humans.  Thus, our eyes are uniquely equipped to reveal their movement.  Because God gave this special gift, the white of the eye known as the sclera, to His children, we are able to easily and quickly read another person.  A lot of exposed white suggests shock or fear.  Reduced white is a happy smile. Skilled artists make use of how much the white of the eyes reveals.

Yes, human eyes really are quite different from animal eyes. Perhaps this is why of over five hundred references to eyes in the Hebrew Scriptures, all apply to humans or to God.  When eyes are first mentioned, the word appears three times in three consecutive verses in Genesis chapter 3.

For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened,
and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

(Genesis 3:5)

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise,
she took of its fruit, and ate, and gave also to her husband with her;
and he ate.

(Genesis 3:6)

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;
and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

(Genesis 3:7)

Eyes have nothing to do with the biological process of sight in any of those three verses.  Eyes in verse 5 refers to the intellect.  Eyes in verse 6 refers to the emotions and eyes in verse 7 refers to the sensual.  In our relationships with others, we relate either intellectually (business partners, study partners, etc.) emotionally (friends, lovers, etc.) or sensually and physically.  Often a relationship involves more than one of these.

Similarly, in all the other many Scriptural instances in which eyes are mentioned, the deeper meaning always goes beyond the simple process of biological vision.  Before we communicate with someone else by speech, we are already communicating with our eyes.  We were created to Connect, to Communicate, to Collaborate, and to Create.  Indeed, the four Cs!  No wonder that tiny humans yet incapable of speech communicate via their—and our—eyes.

13 thoughts on “The Four Sees”

  1. I continue to enjoy your material and spiritual insights. Yet wait in frustration for you to update Americas Real War. This book is responsible for providing me with a World View based upon the Word of YHWH that guides my every thought and core beliefs as I search for TRUTH in life. An update is badly needed for a world that does not know the TRUTH, that only a RIGHT BELIEF can yield. I pray for you and Susan constantly as you guide your readers to a right belief system based upon your ancient Jewish Wisdom. ch

  2. I am so excited to read this , a subject I have been pondering for about a month now !!! I began to think of it when my Labrador came half way down stairs to my mother in laws apartment , I was standing at the door with her , and the dog had to turn her head to the left to see me , and then began darting her eyes UP the stairs and back at me without moving her head ( CLEARLY saying “human , get back up the stairs ” !) I laughed but was also taken aback by a dog communicating to me with eye movements. That is when I consciously noticed only humans have large whites. An unusual subject , but it got me thinking ! Thank you for these informative articles that you write !

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      And, Tom,
      particularly not looking at others begrudgingly and resentfully.

  3. Excellent commentary once again Rabbi, in the case of my Border Collie I would have to differ, though it has little to do with the point you are making. He watches my eyes intently for the slightest signal that might indicate my next move, he studies me intently all the time. If I turn my head or shuffle my feet he is unmoved until some slight indication in my eyes gives away what I am about to do next. He is so attentive to me that I have become compelled to pay him much more attention than I am naturally disposed to do with an animal, and though he cannot speak with a human voice, we have developed an almost telepathic understanding and relationship to each other. When my wife is tired of his puppy-like enthusiasm, she will raise a dark eyebrow and he settles right down, knowing that she’s had it with him. This brings to mind the order of things between God and man and man and animals expressed in Psalm 8. Thanks again for your Thought Tools, they do get me thinking albeit often on divergent tangents.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Good to hear from you again Mark–
      Yes, I am aware of some of the research that suggests that dogs do look carefully at human eyes. I’d like to find out about horses also.
      Eyes convey emotion very well and the Hebrew word for a dog means ‘all heart’.

  4. With all of the turbulence in society it feels as if nothing can calm it down. I remember the story of Jonah who was sent to warn Nineveh (apparently in an uproar as well) that the Lord’s wrath was soon to come. The Bible tells us Nineveh was spared. My question is what did Jonah say?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hello Shane
      It wasn’t just what Jonah said. It was mostly his recognized stature. Remember the old advertising slogan “When EF Hutton speaks, people listen”? People pay as much attention to who is doing the talking as to the words they hear.
      In reality, Shane, I am not sure there really is that much turbulence in society. Did people come into your store today? Did the buses in your neighborhood run? Did little kids still play in the park? Did millions of men and women honor their marriages and take care of their children? Did over 40M Americans attend church last Sunday with no violence or ugliness of any kind?

  5. Thank you Rabbi for all of your lessons. I wish that I knew what you do but then you have spent your entire life in the pursuit of wisdom. It must be very rewarding to touch so many lives. God bless you and all your followers.


    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hello Jackie–
      I was privileged to have had several wonderful teachers and I feel fortunate to be able to pass along so much of what I was taught by great people.

  6. I love your observation about the whites of the (human) eyes!
    If you think of all the cartoon animals in movies and TV, they are made more ‘human’ by enlarging the eyes so we see the whites. In some hobby art, I have tried making such more ‘natural’, without visible whites to the eyes, and it just does not work. We are designed to see human-styled eyes in order to connect easily.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Wow! Great observation CK–
      Excellent. You’re quite right about the cartoon animals.

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