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Visual deprivation: Day 5
Jul 30, 2011, 11:31p - Consciousness

[For background, see my first post on the experiment. This is a rough transcript of a dictation made on day 6.]

Today was an interesting day. Very nice weather. I'm still pretty lethargic, I took a 2 and a half hour nap, but so did Becca so I'm not sure if it's due to my experiment.

It was Jude's birthday so we went to dinner at a place in the Navy Shipyard called the Navy Shipyard Bistro or something like that. There were three other people: Jude, her friend Kristen and Amanda, and Becca and me. I had never met Kristen and Amanda before so it was sort of interesting. When I start seeing again it will be interesting to compare my mental images of their faces based on their voices with their actual faces (we took pictures). The food was good. Because there were so many people I was pretty quiet, as it's hard to know when to speak especially if people are having relatively fast conversation without being able to see.

It's also hard to know when questions are being directed at me, unless they're very specific to me.

After that we went sailing. Becca and I had never been sailing before, and Jude arranged a sailboat cruise at night (9 to 11pm) with this couple who ran the business and owned the boat. I did that with my blindfold. I did not get sea-sick which was a bit of a concern because I'd been getting more car-sick while blind. I think the car accelerates and decelerates and changes directions much more than the boat. We didn't go much faster than 4 knots. It was fun, and it would probably be more fun if I was able to see. It was very relaxing. You could hear lots of party boats in the Boston harbor, and I could hear all sorts of people in the harbor and wharf.

Overall I don't think my hearing or any of my senses have been enhanced so far after 5 days.

It was very calm.

At this point I'm just wanting time to go really fast so this experiment will be over.

On the boat it did seem to go by really fast. It was 2 hours but it felt like an hour or less. Overall the strange thing that's happened is that I feel like time is passing more slowly than it actually is. Conversely I feel like space is passing more quickly than it actually is. So when we go walking I think we've gone probably twice the distance unless I carefully pay attention to the intersections. Even then I screw up and I think we've gone farther than we have. I've been to calibrate and improve in that but it's more of a conscious calibration or a sort of "I thought we went this far, but historically I knew that that far was twice as far as we'd actually gone, so divide by 2 and that's where we are." That kind of thing. And it is a little bit strange. Either our vision helps us with the passage of time significantly (which I'm beginning to believe), so that we're calibrated appropriately. I've also been getting better at estimating the passage of time but my instincts are way off.

What's funny is that the space expansion is the opposite of what you'd expect based on the temporal result. So if I feel like time is moving more slowly than it is, then when I'm moving through space, since this movement is a function of speed which is a function of time, if I think time is moving more slowly then I should also have this instinct that I'm moving through space more slowly when I'm walking. But it's the opposite. I feel like I'm moving much further in space. So the perception of time passing and the perception of space passing must be independent and unlinked, because if they were linked they'd go in the opposite direction than they are actually going.

So I think what's happening with space is this. With walking there is a certain number of landmarks, like in a familiar neighborhood. I feel like I've walked farther than I actually have because there are only a certain set of landmarks. I don't remember every single house on the street. I remember maybe the big ones at the ends and maybe one or two in the middle. So I guess what I am expecting is that, OK I've passed one, OK I've passed the next, OK I've passed this one and OK I should be at the end. In actuality I've only passed three houses and maybe just one of them was the one that I remembered. So I think that seems to be what might be happening with the spatial expansion. My memory of the space is not accurate, and because of that I feel like I'm walking farther than I actually am.

Another interesting thing happened. As we were preparing to go to Jude's party I started seeing more flashes. This was the most prolonged period of flashes so far. I was seeing some sort of flashing in my vision. I've experienced this before when I'm drunk. Often when I'm going to the bathroom when I'm drunk I notice this. If I close my eyes then I see all this "activity", all of this "noise" or something or light-darkness flickering. It's really fast flickering in my vision when I'm drunk when I close my eyes (often or sometimes). So today I wonder if it was because I was moving around fast. I was cleaning the cooler, putting beer in the cooler, and when I stopped I would get this flickering. And it wasn't uniform through my field of view it was mostly concentrated in the upper right corner and then decreased over distance. When it was happening it was very strong but if I attended to it I think it would stop and go away. I don't know if my eyes or my brain is starting to perceive spontaneous activity which is normally drowned out by environmental stimuli. Since I've cut off the visual environment, maybe my brain is now trying to interpret the spontaneous activity that's happening in my visual cortex. So that started happening.

Other than that there isn't much else to report. I think that's about it.

The name of the ship we went on was Tupelo Honey, which is a reference to a Van Morrison song. The captain and the other woman working on the boat were very nice. They never had anyone go on their ship who couldn't see before, but they didn't even ask what I was doing, even when we were discussing it amongst ourselves. I thought that was a little bit too polite especially when we started talking about it.

I guess that's it.

I'm really happy I have 2 days left. I just want the time to fly. I just want to be able to open my eyes again. There's all this stuff I want to do which I can't really while I'm blind. I just want to start doing those things again. So maybe this will really help me get back into my science [research], though I suspect it will really motivate me around the software I'm trying to build to make science more understandable.



One last comment on generating faces from voices. I think this could be a testable theory, though it would be difficult but perhaps possible. I think the faces I generated for the people I met who I had never seen before are likely a function of a couple things. One is I think just the voice quality. The face generation from the voice quality is likely dependent on faces I've seen before that have a similar voice quality. So like similar pitch or frequencies, is it a high voice or a low voice, a raspy voice (like the captain's voice), stuff like this. I have somewhat clear pictures for each of these 4 people that I met. I think what it's based on is either an average of all the people I've seen before with similar voice quality, a sort of weighted average where the weight is dependent on how similar the voice is and that's how much that voice owner's face contributes to this unseen person's face. Or memorability. For whatever reason some people's faces you remember more than others (likely observer-dependent). So I think this is sort of what's happening: Given this voice, what are faces I've seen that match that voice that I remember (either consciously or unconsciously), and what sort of face emerges from examining all of those old faces that I remember. So that's one thing.

There's a second thing though, asides from voice quality, which also has to do more with personality: What kinds of questions did the person ask? What was their tone? Did it seem like they were listening well? Did it seem like they weren't listening well? Were they agitated, or bored? Some of these personality qualities that are beyond just the sound of the voice. So with that I start to think about how they might be dressed. So if they're a little more uptight-sounding, maybe they're wearing more formal clothes. Maybe they're moving in a less smooth way, in a more fast and sharp way.

So I have mental pictures of the faces based on voice quality (based on people I know before who have had faces associated with those voices) and then also something to do with personality (how they behave, the questions they ask, the tone of their speech, not the sound of their speech). I think those 2 factors might contribute to the mental faces I've generated for these people that I've never seen, only heard.

Now that I think about it, it's sort of like the faces we generate for radio DJs. Rarely have mine matched the real thing.

If people had more drawing talent on average, it would be fun to make this into a sort of game. Play a voice, then each team draws the face that they think match. Then the true voice-generating face is revealed, and the closest team wins.

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