The Tucson Conference 2014 - 20th Anniversary

APRIl 21-26, 2014 Tucson - University Park Marriott

under the direction of the Center for CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES, University of Arizona

Special Workshop / Field Study


Nightwalking’ - Peripheral Vision for Peak Experience  

Presenters:  Nelson Zink and Petra Stoerig 

Date:             Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Session:       6:30 pm - 11:00 PM

Location:      Feliz Paseos Park


       Nelson Zink                            Petra Stoerig


Nightwalking’ - Peripheral Vision for Peak Experience  

…utilizing only peripheral vision to navigate – “nightwalking” can lead to peak, or optimal experience. Nightwalking pioneer Nelson Zink and ‘blindsight’ expert Petra Stoerig lead a special workshop in the Sonoran desert of Tucson Mountain Park

“Flow, peak or optimal experiences” are moments of perception and/or action described as smooth, clear and effortless. In them, “time slows with an oceanic sense of union with the world”. Such experiences are reported in mysticism, religion, athletics, artistic expression and other situations.

Does Nightwalking relate to blindsight? Do blindsight patients utilize peripheral vision and its brain correlates? Could nightwalking help visually-impaired patients? Can nightwalking lead to peak experience?

In this special Workshop/ Field Study - Nightwalking pioneer Nelson Zink, and blindsight pioneer Petra Stoerig will lead and host participants on a nightwalk through the Arizona Sonora desert just outside Tucson. Buses will leave the Park Marriott at 6:30 pm, and return by midnight .Participants should wear hiking boots, a jacket and a ball cap, and be able to walk about 3 miles in as many hours.

(Note: this event is rigorous and challenging, and participation is limited. It will conflict with Poster Session 1, and late talks in Concurrent Sessions 1-8)


This event is rigorous and participation is limited

Conference registrants only considered



In the spring of 1989, Nelson Zink and Steve Parks, psychotherapists in northern New Mexico, began to develop techniques for peak experience based on vision. They postulated that people who see farther, wider, more deeply and clearly might access whatever brain processes give rise to peak experience, that such descriptions were not just metaphors, but based on neuroscience. Zink and Parks knew that intensely joyful experiences often revolved around visual perception, and theorized that the converse was also true: a change in visual perception could engender peak experience.  Reviewing the science of the eye, Zink and Parks recognized that focused, color vision depends on cone cells in the central, foveal part of the retina, but that peripheral vision, more sensitive to light and movement, was mediated by more distal retinal rod cells attuned to the periphery of the visual field – peripheral vision. They realized that people in industrialized countries rely almost entirely on focused (cone-based) foveal sight, perhaps depriving them of mental processes which accompany non-foveal, rod-based peripheral vision.

Zink and Parks found a succession of texts from the Taoists of early China through the accounts of Carlos Casteñada which speak of a certain kind of all-seeing gaze. They discovered that Miyamoto Musashi, a legendary swordsman of 16th century Japan, fought duels with his eyes intentionally crossed. He described two types of sight: ‘Ken’, registering superficial appearance, and ‘Kan’, examining the essence of things, seeing through or into them. When swordfighting, Musashi crossed his eyes to negate Ken, and achieve Kan.

Zink and Parks had begun to experiment with their own peripheral vision under passive, serene conditions, but Musashi’s work demonstrated sensitivity to motion in peripheral vision. Indeed, peripheral vision is better than foveal vision in detecting motion. Pilots are taught to use peripheral vision in scanning the sky for other aircraft, and peripheral vision has a higher flicker fusion threshold – a measure of sensitivity to high frequency motion – than central, foveal vision. And Jugglers fix their gaze on an unmoving point, tracking moving objects with peripheral vision.

.Zink and Parks concluded Musashi’s crossed eyes served to negate focused, cone-based foveal vision, causing him to rely on peripheral, rod-based vision, like jugglers. They set about to create a fixed visual point in front of the eyes on which to focus, a point which would move with the head. They settled on attaching a nine-inch rod with a bead at its end, pinned on the bill of a ball cap so the bead is about 12 inches in front of the eyes. Wearing the cap and focusing on the rod tip, Zink and Parks recruited and developed their peripheral vision, finding they could get around fairly easily, and that it was fun, and a bit disconcerting. Seeking an activity less drastic than swordfighting, they started hiking using peripheral vision in the beautiful desert near Taos. Initially during daytime, focusing their gaze on the beads and presumably distracting foveal vision, they were able to negotiate winding trails through small canyons and avoid rocks and branches. They next tried walking in the dark at night, replacing the bead with a foam ball dipped in luminescent paint. It worked, and appeared to elicit peak experience:

“Everything was simultaneously peaceful and scintillating….the ground seemed to rise and gently join the foot with each step.…the abstract quality of peripheral sight…allowed [the brain] to guide our feet…and protect our body--eyes in particular--from contact with tree branches.…alertness seemed to expand automatically when locked in peripheral vision. Other senses awakened as if each had a peripheral realm of its own.”

Meanwhile, during those years, clinical neuroscientists studying the brain’s visual system had found patients with lesions of primary visual cortex, rendering them blind but still able to somehow ‘noncosciously’ respond to visual stimuli, a phenomenon termed ‘blindsight’. Among those discovering blindsight were Larry Weiskrantz, Alan Cowey and Petra Stoerig. Neuroscientists also discovered that brain regions mediating peripheral vision were found on the medial longitudinal (or interhemispheric) fissure, different from regions mediating central, or foveal vision, and consistent with default mode rather than sensory-based processes. Like nightwalking, blindsight requires both practice and trust, and works best when used without conscious effort.



NightWalking-Whole Earth Review, Fall 1991

Palmer SM, Ross MG (2006) A distinct anatomical network of cortical areas for analysis of motion in far peripheral vision. European Journal of Neuroscience 24(8)2389-2405



Nelson Zink

Psychotherapist (retired)

Former Director, The Embudo Center

Author ‘The Structure of Delight’

Petra Stoerig

Professor, Institut für Experimentelle Psychologie II
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf