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My visual deprivation experiment
Jul 15, 2011, 11:40a - Consciousness

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to start a visual deprivation experiment on myself. For 1 week, I'm going to tape my eyes shut. I'm not going into the lab, and I'm certainly not going to be on the Interweb or reading email. I'm not sure exactly what I'll be doing - I'm guessing trying not to get hit by a car or otherwise stumble down the stairs. I guess I'll be listening a lot, and possibly becoming bored out of my mind. To be honest, I'm not sure I'll be able to last a day, let alone a week. But I always think, if I'm going to do something that's ostensibly crazy, do it further than I think I can because God-knows when I'll try to do it again.

"This experiment sounds stupid. Why the hell would you want to do this?"

When I came back from survival school (another thing that most people thought was stupid, yet it was the best thing I've done in my entire life), I was completely sensitized to life in society, so much so that I felt I could see powers at play I'd never noticed before. Not only did food hold a newfound perceptual power, the makeup of the constant social hum became strikingly apparent. It became clear how much each entity in the small town of Provo and beyond was yelling "hey, you look at me!" in its oh-so-subtle way. After 28 days of seeing no big signs or billboards, they practically popped out and pulled me to them. It's no wonder we can have so much trouble focusing - not only do we live in a society with a high baseline of subliminal distraction, we become addicted and compulsively seek it out.

So sensitization via deprivation is a powerful method for heightening awareness. A few months after survival school, I thought, "Hey, if deprivation works for food and love, what about more basic sensations, like vision and hearing?" So for the past 4 years I've been wanting to do this experiment, and since it's summer and I'm less motivated to do experiments, why not do it now?

The goal of this experiment is not to see what it's like to be a blind person (though that's obviously unavoidable). I don't have much interest in that. My goal is to see what effect a week of visual deprivation will have on my visual perception when I unblind myself. Will colors "pop" more? Will I notice differences in color more or less? Will vision give me a headache? How long will the effects last?

My second goal is more meditative, in that I'm curious what a week with less visual distraction will do to my thoughts. I found on survival school that my mind took me places I never reached in distraction-filled society, and I really liked those new places. Will something similar happen while I'm blinded?

Third, and least important, I'm curious about sensory enhancement while I'm blinded. People always say that non-visual senses, such as hearing and touch, are enhanced in blind people. Will a week of blindness lead to enhancement for me? I suspect I might make Becca take me to the library to get some Braille books - maybe the Braille alphabet will be easy to learn now?

I've got a pretty good mental map of familiar places like home and MIT, so it'll be interesting to go to new places (like the Cambridge library) and have to create it from scratch. It might be even more interesting to go back to those places when I'm sighted and see how my blinded map compares to my visual one. I'll probably also try to cook, relying on smell and touch to figure out if my food is ready.

Of course, I'm not going fully solo. Becca will be with me most of the time, and I'll have a long stick for when I walk around. I'm not yet sure how I'm blinding myself. I got a pirate eye-patch, but light can leak in around the edges, and a band around my head will probably start to hurt after a while. The current plan is to tape cotton over my eyes and not remove them until the week is up.

I'll write my experiences, of during and after, when the experiment is finished.

Read comments (8) - Comment

neha - Jul 15, 2011, 9:51a
I was going to ask you if you and Becca wanted to hang out soon. Perhaps the week after.

Niniane - Jul 15, 2011, 8:28p
Ok this is awesome. I want to hear how it is!!!

Yu-li - Jul 16, 2011, 1:51p
Sounds interesting! I would like to do the same experiment by myself, but I am too lazy...

I think it is better to measure the effect as objective as possible. How about preparing a color chart so that you can compare the visual perception?

Good luck!

Dylan - Jul 16, 2011, 2:24p
Good for you. I'm very curious to hear your findings after this. My non-informed guess is you will indeed make it a week, but will spend much of your time just sitting and listening to the radio.

Retsina - Jul 18, 2011, 7:07a
Very cool, Nikhil :)

Mom - Jul 25, 2011, 2:53p
Nik - You awesome but crazy kid, you must have begun your experiment by now. I know you will not be reading this blog until you restore your vision. You may look like a raccoon with white circles around your eyes...ha ha.Maybe a visit to the Braille institute will help you read faster and not get bored. Becca can convey my words if she is reading your blog to you.

I look forward to discussing your observation with you...Be careful son.


igi - Jul 29, 2015, 3:53a
where is the result of the eperiment!

nikhil - Jul 29, 2015, 4:01a
The first day is here

Then use the links at the bottom to go day by day through all 7 days, and then my concluding post.

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