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Once for Yes, Twice for No. The Simple Elegance of Blinking

February 27, 2022
Once for Yes, Twice for No. The Simple Elegance of Blinking

It is estimated that the average person blinks 15 to 20 times per minute while awake. That translates to 900 to 1,200 times per hour, or 14,400 to 19,200 times per day! Each blink is a mere 0.1 to 0.4 seconds; barely interfering with your vision but taking up about 10% of your day. Much the same as breathing, unless you’re consciously thinking about it, you hardly seem to notice you’re doing it.

We blink to lubricate and cleanse our eyes. The tear ducts in the corners of our eyes produce a blend of vital secretions and nutrients including water, oil, mucus, and hundreds of other essential components such as lysosomes, which function like natural antibiotics, and amino acids that nourish the cells of the cornea.

Beyond simply lubricating the surface of the eye, blinking, and the gentle washing over of elemental fluids that comes with it work to maintain as smooth a corneal surface as possible to allow for on top of light to focus properly. Blinking transfers oxygen to the cornea since the cornea has no blood vessels of its own to deliver it directly; keeps the eyes healthy and prevents infection; washes away debris; and ferries white blood cells to the eye when they’re needed to attend to an injury.

Blinking for Eye Health and Essential Rest

It would be enough if we just left it at lubricating and cleaning. That much makes sense enough for us to blink; maybe not as often as we do, but at least a lot. Our eyes are taking in dust and debris from the atmosphere constantly. Imagine how clear your vision would be if you could wash your eyeglass as frequently as your eyelids bathe your eyes!

It turns out, there may be another more subtle essential function of blinking: rest and refocus. Not only that, but it may not be that we are blinking completely at random. Stop and think about it for a second – what seems random may in fact be fairly predictable. Most people tend to blink at the end of a sentence when reading (blink), or at pauses between statements or the switching of scenes in a film (blink), or even more intuitively (blink), at moments when our brains decide our attention is not completely necessary, or nothing critical is about to happen (blink).

Considering this phenomenon, researchers have hypothesized that not only do we blink to allow tears to cleanse and lubricate our eyes, but also to give our brains a moment, however brief, to rest, refocus, and reset. 

Imagine slowing it down one thousand times so you could literally see the lights going out for that 1/10th of a second as your eyelids drop over your eyes, your eyes are suddenly bathed with revitalizing fluids and your mind goes exquisitely quiet for a fleeting moment of perfect existential calm… Blink, and you’d have missed it.


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