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Visual deprivation: Day 2
Jul 27, 2011, 11:13p - Consciousness

[For background see my first post about my blindness experiment. This post is a rough transcript of a dictation on day 3.]

Yesterday I had a little bit of an adventure. I went around the block by myself. It's amazing how much I do not walk in a straight line. With cars going by on the street, it's amazing how close they seem though I guess they're at least 6-8 feet away. So I had a tough time, I just went around the block. It's easy when there's a fence or something that you can follow just with your hands but for lots of the yards that don't have a fence and maybe just have grass it becomes more difficult to go straight. To know when to turn I was just watching out for when the sidewalk dropped but of course there are driveways, so if I accidentally veered down a driveway there's not going to be a steep drop. And then I'm relying on my ability to detect the textural difference of the cement on the sidewalk from the asphalt on the street, which is possible but still a bit frightening. Overall it was pretty frightening.

I made it and didn't get lost. I was scared. Funny thing is that it ended up taking a lot longer than it felt. It felt like 10 to 15 minutes but when I came back home Becca said that it had taken 30 minutes. In general it seems that, although I've been sleeping a lot, time is passing a lot faster than it feels like it's passing, which is unusual. So that was pretty frightening but I made it home. I didn't fall, I ran into a few trees and a stop sign pole (which I later learned was a parking restriction sign) on one street, but overall it was alright.

So I may go again later, maybe at night when there's less traffic. Though the cars really helped me determine the ends of the blocks because my sense of distance is extremely poor. I tend to think that I've gone a lot farther in space than I actually have, so I think I should be someplace but I'm only halfway there. This is opposite to the effect I experience for the passing of time. So the cars really help because at least around our block there's a stop sign at each intersection. So I can hear for when the car stops and then I sort of know that I haven't passed the edge of the block. That's the other thing. I think those wheelchair-accessible sidewalk ramps on corners might be not so great for blind people because you lose the steep drop that delineates where the sidewalk ends and the street begins.

So that was exciting and scary. A lot of sleeping still, just reclining. I worked on my software in my mind and solved a few more technical problems. We've been watching the new MTV show Teen Wolf at night, which is not great to watch when you're blind because a lot of stuff happens on the screen that no one on screen talks about. Which I guess is probably true for most movies.

I helped Becca make dinner. I chopped up some broccoli, threw them in the frying pan. Tomorrow we're going to go to the library to get a book on Braille. I've also been listening to Helen Keller's autobiography, which she wrote when she was about 20 years old. It's pretty short. But it's pretty interesting how she learns to read. She goes blind and loses her hearing when she's about 1 and a half years old, so she has to do all this basic learning about the world missing 2 key senses. First, she has an amazing teacher, who I think is perhaps more impressive than she is. Second, she learns to read by her teacher writing letters on her hand, and eventually she learns to listen to people speaking by touching their lips. This all happens around the age of 6 or 8 I think. This is the most amazing part of the book because she talks about learning concepts, such as doll and water, which she can be aware of doing because she's so old. I doubt most of us remember learning our first concept of an object, let alone an abstract concept like love, but she remembers learning all of this. If you're curious about cognitive processes that happen in children, I highly recommend reading her account of learning her first words.

She can also tell what people are writing by putting her hand on their hand when they write, which is called the "mechanical alphabet". So people can communicate with her in that way as well.

It's interesting to read her book when I myself can't see and listen to all the stuff she does, like going on a rowboat on a river. After my little experience going around the block that seems even more frightening, cause God knows where you'd end up with the current especially if you don't have any sense for what the terrain should be like, which I do with my own neighborhood. So she does a lot of things which I guess if this is your lifelong condition you learn to do.

This does sort of suck.

So I've switched to using a black eyemask. The eyemask started irritating my eyebrow, so I've spent some time with the eyemask off, which is nice. I also took a shower yesterday, which was nice. I just did that by keeping my eyes closed. Sometime I don't do that well, so shards of light do enter when my eyes inadvertantly open a little bit, but then I just close them pretty quickly. I also normally wear contacts and can't see very well without them anyhow. So I don't think these shards of light will affect the experiment, and if they do, I guess it's now part of this experiment.

So that's it. Depending on whether Jude chooses to go on a sailboat adventure for her birthday and whether they let me go on blind, this experiment may last 5 days. If they do let me go on blind, or if she doesn't go there, I'm still shooting for my 7 days ending Monday night.

So one interesting thing about this blindness experiment so far is that I really feel very distant from the world, and that I'm trying to map what I perceive through my other senses (hearing, touch), trying to map those 2 senses back onto what I know to be the visual world of this environment. So it's almost like I'm really living in my mind more deeply than I had before when I could see, because when I could see there was a sort of veridical truth and I didn't have to constantly imagine what the truth was like. But without sight I'm constantly trying to imagine what is the shape of this object, what does it look like. I don't think this is what people who are congenitally blind would do but since I know that there are visual objects out there, the visual world seems like the veridical world and everything else seems like it's trying to approximate it, to get me to that visual world. So I feel like I'm deeper in my mind, much more distant from reality now than I was when I could see, because I'm constantly trying to do this recreation, this simulation in my head as I get all these non-visual inputs. So it's interesting. There's this great distance, greater distance between me and the world than there's been before.

Read comments (5) - Comment

Kanika - Aug 5, 2011, 4:40p
I don't know if you did this already - bit about three years ago a movie came out- beautiful movie about the blind- called BLACK by Sanjay leela bansali staring amitabh.... I must watch it!!!

Yu-li - Aug 5, 2011, 7:41p
Interesting. Your experiment tells that normal sense of distance greatly depends on visual information.It must be specific to visual sense. Physically, other types of information are not very sensitive to distance I think (They are not linear. I mean, the strength of scent depends on both distance and quantity for example). I am sorry that my description is not very accurate.

Good luck!

Niniane - Aug 5, 2011, 9:05p
This is an awesome story. I like all the details of how you're watching Teen Wolf, etc. It sounds domestic and pleasant.

mom - Aug 12, 2011, 1:16p
good reading your descriptions and findings son. Yes, the Indian movie 'Black' suggested by Kanika is wonderful and maybe you would be able to appriciate it. Netflix should have it.

sakshi - Aug 24, 2011, 8:45p
hmmm.. ive been out of the loop !!! just got back in.. another thumbs up for black !!!

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