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Visual deprivation: Day 1
Jul 26, 2011, 11:07p - Consciousness

[All posts in this series have been backdated to the date they occurred. For background info on my visual deprivation experiment, see my first post on the topic. This post is a rough transcript of a dictation I made on day 2.]

I started Monday night (last night) at midnight. Becca taped stretched-out cotton balls over my eyes, couple pieces of tape, and I slept that way for the night. I slept fine. When I woke up in the morning, I woke up but felt sleepy most of the day, all day, and I was just napping. I'm not sure if my circadian rhythm is screwed up because I'm not getting much sunlight. With the cotton, if I stare into a light or the sun, I see a uniformly diffuse orange. So it's not completely dark, but there are certainly no visual patterns.

So I spent most of the day just lounging around, I'm really tired, I napped, I went outside in the backyard I napped, came back in I napped.

We went for a walk with Erika to the Indian grocery store where the man there was very worried about me but then when I told him it was an experiment he was very angry at me, though I couldn't tell [Becca told me]. The best thing about being blind is that you don't have to respond. You can't see and therefore don't have to respond to any of the non-verbal cues people give you, the facial expressions and body gestures and languages, all of that is just gone. And it's actually quite liberating, because you're not responding so much as you're just acting, which is nice and I find liberating.

I've just been having trouble staying awake. And it's mostly just darkness. In the night we also walked to the grocery store which is farther. And I guess a lot of people were giving me looks, which of course I can't see [Becca told me]. In the night time we decided to switch the cotton balls as they got pretty itchy and annoying. My eyes were a little sealed shut from not being able to wash them in the morning. So I took off the cotton balls and replaced it with a dark, black-colored eye mask and this actually works really well. I can rub my eyes. I can wash my face. And it's actually much darker than the cotton balls. There's more of a risk of actually opening my eyes, though. I've gotten minor cracks of light come into my eyes once in awhile, but no major mistakes so far. And I keep my eyes closed under the mask.

I've been spending my time thinking a lot about my new software, solving some design and implementation questions.

I feel very lethargic, and since it's harder to do normal exercises I feel like a bag of body parts, not really very active. I'm going to go try and walk around the block by myself. I'm using a bright yellow broomstick as my blind man's stick.

It's also worth noting that I don't feel any strong emotions. I mostly just feel tired. I don't feel sad, I don't feel happy, I just don't really feel much, pretty neutral. So my emotional response is fairly indifferent.

One thing I was telling Becca is that visual deprivation, at least so far, doesn't seem to elicit the strong visceral response that other forms of deprivation, like starvation, do. With starvation, you get this hunger, this really innate, intrinsic feeling to end it. Same thing if you hold your breath for a while. Also for me I feel something similar in social isolation, where I get a really strong desire to talk, to myself or other people. But with visual deprivation I don't have a very strong desire to rip my eyemask off and to see again. So visual deprivation seems to be in a different class, it doesn't seem to have the strong desire to end that other deprivation conditions have.

Read comments (6) - Comment

Nicky - Aug 5, 2011, 7:57a
Did a desire to rip off the eye mask emerge after a few days? Did it just take longer than food deprivation or isolation? I am on the edge of my seat waiting for the next post!

nikhil - Aug 5, 2011, 10:07a
Nope, a desire to rip off the eyemask and open my eyes never emerged, certainly nothing like the desire to eat after food deprivation or the desire to breathe after air deprivation.

Howard - Aug 5, 2011, 10:53a
well, those are interesting comparisons because one could argue that the other two forms of deprivation you use for example are tied to very real needs of survival on a biological level. While food is a little different because given your survival school mean experiment you weren't lacking nutrition just variety and craving. With air deprivation, that's entirely different, no air = no life and your body starts to react involuntarily. so the one easy conclusion is that vision is not tied to survival instincts

nikhil - Aug 5, 2011, 1:05p
Howard, I completely agree. I also think it's interesting to think about the brain basis for each of these deprivations. Vision is believed to rely mostly on the outer parts of the brain (the cortex), whereas more basic body functions like breathing and perhaps even hunger lie deeper in the brain. Maybe it's these different brain locations that contribute to the different class of feelings that each type of deprivation generates. So maybe inner brain deprivations generate the intrinsic or visceral feeling to stop, while outer brain deprivations don't.

Yu-li - Aug 5, 2011, 7:28p
Hi, I've waited for your post! Your experiment is so interesting. Some ideas come to my mind.

1) You could feel sleepy because of conditioning. The sense of darkness might be associated with sleepiness.

2) You also could feel tired because of mental resource reallocation. (It's a hypothesis). I mean, in some sense, you had depended on visual feedback in order to control your movement. Now you have to decide your movement without some information, so you need to compensate the loss with other types of information. Your body and brain could have been working very hard subconsciously.

3) I think some portion of emotional stability(?) can be explained by decreased quantity of information. I mean, it might not be specific to visual sense. For example, if you cannot smell, you would feel quite indifferent to food.

That's what I think. Good luck!

Archy - May 12, 2018, 3:47p
Hello Nikhil.
So I was thinking of doing this experiment, and I looked up if someone else has had this crazy thought and I found you.
So basically I was thinking of experimenting because I am studying how visually impaired people face problems while accessing public transport. I thought I should experience it for myself, how difficult it is to reach a bus stop and get on a bus without seeing. Did you come across any such problems?

I know its pretty late, 7 years late to be precise, but do you remember any barriers you came across, even while just walking.

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