Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I can only see what I know

There’s an interesting theory that states that “we can’t see what we don’t know exists.” The story goes that the natives of North America couldn’t see Columbus’ ships on the horizon until their medicine man figured out what the ripples in the water were, and told them that ships exist.

I had an interesting experience in my anatomy lab that may support this idea. We were looking at epithelial tissues and identifying their cell types. This is the first time most of us had done this, so it was new to many of us. It was certainly new to me. As I looked at these strange pink-tinted structures under the microscope, at first I couldn’t make heads or tails of them. I was told that the darker dots were the nuclei of the cells. I could see several other pinkish lines and such, but I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. They seemed fuzzy and out of focus somehow, even though I knew the microscope was in focus.

As I started trying to find landmarks, such as the cell nuclei, I shifted my sight to the cell walls, trying to determine the individual boundaries of each cell. I started looking at the different colors and patterns to figure out which were epithelial cells, and which were connective tissue. After a few minutes of this, suddenly my mind finally grasped the patterns I saw, everything was made very clear in my vision. It’s as if I had changed the focus on the microscope, even though I had done no such thing. I could see the tissues with great clarity, and understood what I was seeing.

Why did I suddenly see what was there, why did it suddenly come into focus, even though I had been looking at the same slide for several minutes, without adjusting the focus on the microscope? I believe that my mind had finally grasped the concept of the individual cell patterns. I had taught myself that epithelial tissue cells existed.

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