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Bruce, Caroline

What Does Sight Feel Like: LJ Idol, Week 5

If you can see anything at all, even light, or if you have ever seen anything at all, you cannot fully understand what it is to have been totally blind since birth. This is not a statement lamely meant to evoke pity, it is simply a statement of fact. Many times, I have had people come up to me, genuinely believing they understand my lot in life because they have been blindfolded for an hour, morning, afternoon, or day, but it is simply not true. When one is blindfolded, there comes with it the knowledge that at some point that blindfold will be removed. At the very least, you have experienced sight and you know the sensation for what it is.

Just as someone who sees or has seen can't understand total blindness from birth, I am also incapable of understanding sight. This has led to interesting conversations.

For as long as I can remember, people have tried explaining sight, color, and perspective to me, all to no avail. "What does sight feel like?" I ask. "Feel? It doesn't feel like anything," they reply, "it's just ... it's just sight!" Or, one of my personal favorites, "Red is hot, and ..." "But," I answer, "what happens when you take a red apple and put it in the fridge. It's still red, but it's cold!"

Another thing people like to tell me is that I see black. I do not. When you are seeing black, your eyes tell your brain that there is nothing to see, and your brain registers this. In my case, my brain doesn't even register that there is nothing to see. It's a really tough concept to wrap your brain around, just as, I'm sure, mere silence is absolutely nothing like total deafness.

The problem is that we think of things according to the reference points we know. We have to, it's all we have. You associate blindness with darkness, darkness with blackness. You don't know what is beyond darkness, so the notion that blindness is somehow more than darkness/blackness is utterly foreign.

Does blindfolding give one a better understanding of blindness? Absolutely. People can experience firsthand some of the challenges associated with blindness. But it's not the real thing, nor can it be. So I suppose there will always be this comprehension gap between me and my many sighted friends, family, and associates. Thankfully this gap doesn't divide us as people. Our commonalities far, far outweigh the differences that blindness represent.

But I still want to know, and I probably won't know during my life on earth, what does sight feel like?


I found this entry incredably interesting, since I wondered about your (someone who has been blind since biths) prespective about blindness.

Very nice job.
VERY insightful post... brings up issues of which I have never conceived... well done!
I do have a bit of sight so I won't pretend to know what it is like to be totally blind. but my left eye is totally blind...no light.
When I describe blindness to children in schools and they ask me if I see black I tell them no. I ask them if their hand sees black. they then say no it sees nothing. Then I tell them that that is what my eye is like. like seeing through your hand.
I couldn't agree with you more on your points in this post. I was born deafblind, but with some hearing and some vision, so I can't say I experience or understand total blindness. I had a fair amount of sight before the diagnosis of glaucoma, that robbed a fair amount of what I have... and continues to do so.

I laughed with your description of the apple... so true! Some things just don't work that way!
Thank you for your perspective.
I don't know as I could explain to you, but I know what you're asking. I have synesthesia, which gives things like sight textures, tastes, and other sensory input it wouldn't normally have. Music, for instance, has color and may have flavors as well. Textures have sound. It's all very odd.

On the other hand, I don't pretend to know what it would be like to not have sight. That's just rude. You can't explain what you've never had, on either end.
I've heard about that, but never really understood it. I don't understand it very well, but it definitely sounds interesting.
There's a name for that!? I've always felt that music has colour, and that colours have scents and that sound has texture. I didn't know that wasn't just an individual thing. To me, numbers have colours, too. The way I memorize a phone number would make your head spin. LOL
How about "red is how the brain interprets electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of 625–740 nanometers as received by the eyes." Not very helpful, but a whole lot more accurate than "red is hot."

Thanks for this...
You give me many things to consider. Great post. :)
Very informative entry. Thanks for sharing this with us. :)
I hate when people insist that I see black. I tell them that I actually don't, and they just sort of laugh at me, as if to say that I do indeed see black, but don't know any better. (Sigh)
I think the Red is hot thing is a stupid way to define colors, if I were having that conversation with you I'd probably liken colors to textures.... That doesn't mean I have any clue what your life is like though...

Anyways, I just wanted to say not to give up on sight, bio-technology has been making some amazing inroads over the last decade. I met a dog that had cataracts so it went blind and they mounted a camera on it's head that they plugged straight to it's brain, I've seen video of a blind guy driving with similar technology. I think we are within a decade of curing or at least assisting most forms of blindness.

I'm sure that is all stuff you've heard before and are probably more up specifically on the techniques people are using for dealing with blindness, I tend to follow bio-tech in general not focus on that one area. Moreover, it was a a "chin up" type of statement.

Oh, and next time someone tells you that you see black then just correct them and say "No, I see plaid"
*GRIN* I enjoyed that response. I don't think I'd choose sight, even if it were offered to me, not at this point. Maybe next time there's an open topic, I'll explore that.
I think if I tried to describe colour, I would do so by scent. For example; green smells like a tomato vine and brown is the clean yet rotting smell of a forest floor in the fall. I could go on but I don't suppose it helps much, does it?

I tried to imagine what it would be like to be deaf often as a child. My step-mom was deaf for many years. I know that I could never fathom life as one born deaf. For a few years she was both blind and deaf and she confided in me that she would much rather be deaf than blind. She felt much less cut-off from the world deaf than she did blind.
I have to be honest and say no, though I appreciate your taking the time. I think the association with smells is better than any association I've heard so far, but I just don't think I'll ever understand color. Thanks for writing.
I found this intriguing. You gave me a lot to think about.
My favorite uncle is blind and this entry reminded me of the hours and hours we would discuss this topic. Me trying to understand his world, and him, trying to explain it to someone who could never understand.

It's been a while since I've talked to him. You've inspired me to call him today - thank you.
When I was in high school psychology class, I sat in front of a girl named Heather who had only one eye (the other was as prosthetic). It was one of those things that I think most people knew - as we'd all grown up going to the same small-town schools and had watched her eye go cloudy, then gray and then morph into a blue one that matched the other - but no one talked about it, obviously.

We were discussing the five senses in class, going over the parts of the eye.

I tend to talk out loud to myself, and without thinking, I said, "I wonder what it's like not to see."

"You want to know what it's like?" Heather asked. I jumped.
"Uh..." Not one of my most articulate moments.
"We're talking about how parts of the eye sense things. Color, light waves, whatever. If you can't see, then those things just aren't there. There is no black, there is no absence of light...you just don't SEE."

In that moment, blindness made more sense to me than it ever had before. The sight just isn't there.

This post reminded me of Heather's straight-forward explanation and that moment of (albeit parital) clarity.

Thank you for sharing this. :)

great entry.
This is, as you know, something I've been thinking about. I honestly cannot imagine lack of sight, although I can imagine lack of hearing fairly easily.

The best I can do to tell you what it feels like to see is to say that it is a lot like hearing. It gives a sense of space to the world, and it lets you know where things are and what is moving and what is still. It is a stream of constant information that can never be stopped, even if you close your eyes, because when your eyes are closed, your mind fills in the visuals that it thinks should be there.

That didn't help at all, I know.