It will perhaps be objected that the MINIMUM VISIBILE of a man doth really and in itself contain parts whereby it surpasses that of a mite, though they are not perceivable by the man. To which I answer, the MINIMUM VISIBILE having (in like manner as all other the proper and immediate objects of sight) been shown not to have any existence without the mind of him who sees it, it follows there cannot be any pan of it that is not actually perceived, and therefore visible. Now for any object to contain distinct visible parts, and at the same time to be a MINIMUM VISIBILE, is a manifest contradiction.
Of these visible points we see at all times an equal number. It is every whit as great when our view is contracted and bounded by near objects as when it is extended to larger and remoter. For it being impossible that one MINIMUM VISIBILE should obscure or keep out of sight mote than one other, it is a plain consequence that when my view is on all sides bounded by the walls of my study see just as many visible points as I could, in case that by the removal of the study-walls and all other obstructions, I had a full prospect of the circumjacent fields, mountains, sea, and open firmament: for so long as I am shut up within the walls, by their interposition every point of the external objects is covered from my view: but each point that is seen being able to cover or exclude from sight one only other corresponding point, it follows that whilst my sight is confined to those narrow walls I see as many points, or MINIMA VISIBILIA, as I should were those walls away, by looking on all the external objects whose prospect is intercepted by them. Whenever therefore we are said to have a greater prospect at one time than another, this must be understood with relation, not to the proper and immediate, but the secondary and mediate objects of vision, which, as hath been shown, properly belong to the touch.
The visive faculty considered with reference to its immediate objects may be found to labour of two defects. FIRST, in respect of the extent or number of visible points that are at once perceivable by it, which is narrow and limited to a certain degree. It can take in at one view but a certain determinate number of MINIMA VISIBILIA, beyond which it cannot extend its prospect. Secondly, our sight is defective in that its view is not only narrow, but also for the most part confused: of those things that we take in at one prospect we can see but a few at once clearly and unconfusedly: and the more we fix our sight on any one object, by so much the darker and more indistinct shall the rest appear.
Corresponding to these two defects of sight, we may imagine as many perfections, to wit, 1ST, that of comprehending in one view a greater number of visible points. 2DLY, of being able to view them all equally and at once with the utmost clearness and distinction. That those perfections are not actually in some intelligences of a different order and capacity from ours it is impossible for us to know.
In neither of those two ways do microscopes contribute to the improvement of sight; for when we look through a microscope we neither see more visible points, nor are the collateral points more distinct than when we look with the naked eye at objects placed in a due distance. A microscope brings us, as it were, into a new world: it presents us with a new scene of visible objects quite different from what we behold with the naked eye. But herein consists the most remarkable difference, to wit, that whereas the objects perceived by the eye alone have a certain connexion with tangible objects, whereby we are taught to foresee what will ensue upon the approach or application of distant objects to the parts of our own body, which much conduceth to its preservation, there is not the like connexion between things tangible and those visible objects that are perceived by help of a fine microscope.
Hence it is evident that were our eyes turned into the nature of microscopes, we should not be much benefited by the change; we should be deprived of the forementioned advantage we at present receive by the visive faculty, and have left us only the empty amusement of seeing, without any other benefit arising from it. But in that case, it will perhaps be said, our sight would be endued with a far greater sharpness and penetration than it now hath. But it is certain from what we have already shown that the MINIMUM VISIBILE is never greater or lesser, but in all cases constantly the same: and in the case of microscopical eyes I see only this difference, to wit, that upon the ceasing of a certain observable connexion betwixt the divers perceptions of sight and touch, which before enabled us to regulate our actions by the eye, it would now be rendered utterly unserviceable to that purpose.
Upon the whole it seems that if we consider the use and end of sight, together with the present state and circumstances of our being, we shall not find any great cause to complain of any defect or imperfection in it, or easily conceive how it could be mended. With such admirable wisdom is that faculty contrived, both for the pleasure and convenience of life.
Having finished what I intended to say concerning the distance and magnitude of objects, I come now to treat of the manner wherein the mind perceives by sight their situation. Among the discoveries of the last age, it is reputed none of the least that the manner of vision hath been more clearly explained than ever it had been before. There is at this day no one ignorant that the pictures of external objects are painted on the RETINA, or fund of the eye: that we can see nothing which is not so painted: and that, according as the picture is more distinct or confused, so also is the perception we have of the object: but then in this explication of vision there occurs one mighty difficulty. The objects are painted in an inverted order on the bottom of the eye: the upper part of any object being painted on the lower part of the eye, and the lower part of the object on the upper part of the eye: and so also as to right and left. Since therefore the pictures are thus inverted, it is demanded how it comes to pass that we see the objects erect and in their natural posture?
In answer to this difficulty we are told that the mind, perceiving an impulse of a ray of light on the upper part of the eye, considers this ray as coming in a direct line from the lower part of the object; and in like manner tracing the ray that strikes on the lower part of the eye, it is directed to the upper part of the object. Thus in the adjacent figure, C, the lower point of the object ABC, is projected on C the upper part of the eye. So likewise the highest point A is projected on A the lowest part of the eye, which makes the representation CBA inverted: but the mind considering the stroke that is made on C as coming in the straight line CC from the lower end of the object; and the stroke or impulse on a as coming in the line AA from the upper end of the object, is directed to make a right judgment of the situation of the object ABC, notwithstanding the picture of it is inverted. This is illustrated by conceiving a blind man who, holding in his hands two sticks that cross each other, doth with them touch the extremities of an object, placed in a perpendicular situation. It is certain this man will judge that to be the upper part of the object which he touches with the stick held in the undermost hand, and that to be the lower part of the object which he touches with the stick in his uppermost hand. This is the common explication of the erect appearance of objects, which is generally received and acquiesced in, being (as Mr. Molyneux tells us [Diopt. par. 2. c. 7. P. 289.]) 'allowed by all men as satisfactory'.
But this account to me does not seem in any degree true. Did I perceive those impulses, decussations, and directions of the rays of light in like manner as hath been set forth, then indeed it would not be altogether void of probability. And there might be some pretence for the comparison of the blind man and his cross sticks. But the case is far otherwise. I know very well that I perceive no such thing. And of consequence I cannot thereby make an estimate of the situation of objects. I appeal to anyone's experience, whether he be conscious to himself that he thinks on the intersection made by the radious [SIC] pencils, or pursues the impulses they give in right lines, whenever he perceives by sight the position of any object? To me it seems evident that crossing and tracing of the rays is never thought on by children, idiots, or in truth by any other, save only those who have applied themselves to the study of optics. And for the mind to judge of the situation of objects by those things without perceiving them, or to perceive them without knowing it, is equally beyond my comprehension. Add to this that the explaining the manner of vision by the example of cross sticks and hunting for the object along the axes of the radious pencils, doth suppose the proper objects of sight to be perceived at a distance from us, contrary to what hath been demonstrated.