The world that only formerly-blind people can see
2013 04 19

By Esther Inglis-Arkell | io9



They once were blind but now they see. Which begs the question — what exactly do people see when they gain sight for the first time? Often, it’s terrifying.

What happens when people first really look at the world? Generally, we don’t know. They’re far too young to tell us what’s going on in their mind. By the time children are old enough to articulate what they see, they don’t remember what the world looked like in their first few weeks of life. There are special occasions, though, when full-grown adults can see for the first time. For the most part, they see a complete confusion. Often, that does a lot of emotional damage.

One of the earliest-known cases of regained sight is Virgil, the Roman poet. At age fifty, he had cataract surgery and regained his sight. Soon after, he wished he hadn’t. This is common to many blind people who regain their sight. Unlike infants, who are catered to, whose brains are primed for learning, and who have no option but to learn, blind people are asked to replace a familiar sensory system that reliably guides them through the world with an unfamiliar one that does nothing but confuse them. Sometimes the strain of assimilation is too much. Like many other patients, Virgil would shut his eyes and pretend he was still blind when the situation became overwhelming. He became depressed and died of pneumonia soon after his surgery. Although he had seen the world with his eyes, he retained his “mental blindness,” or what experts call “visual agnosia.”

For someone to see an object, the eye needs to pick it up, but the brain also needs to recognize it. This process takes both practice and a certain physical ability in the brain. Agnosia patients have generally suffered brain injuries and lost the ability to understand what they see – they see a rectangular object with a brown circle on top and a loop on one side, but don’t understand that they’re looking at a cup of coffee. There are only shapes. Those who have been blind most of their lives “wake up” with a certain amount of visual agnosia.



Spatial distance is often the primary problem they run into. One man saw people walking away from him as inexplicably shrinking. Another would practice spatial recognition by going out in a field and throwing his boot as far as he could. He’d hold out his hand to grab it, and if it wasn’t in reach, step forward before trying again.

Another area that many newly-sighted people find inexplicable is paintings and other visual representations. They can comprehend real objects, but not painted ones. When they do understand what the paintings are meant to represent, the shadows that are meant to define space and give shape just look like dark marks on the painting. Which, technically they are. It’s only a willful visual laziness on the part of the sighted that lets us see these paint blotches as shadows rather than shapes and colors.

Because we develop familiarity with faces and facial expressions at specific times in our lives – those who are deprived of human contact or changing facial expressions at that age often have trouble reading expressions for their entire lives – formerly blind people are often face-blind, or unable to decipher emotion from facial expression. Some have trouble differentiating between male and female faces.

[...]

Read the full article at: io9.com



Related Articles
App developer hopes to use Google Glass to help the blind see
Belgium Euthanizes Deaf Twins Going Blind
World’s first bionic eye gifts blind woman eyesight
Blind Mice Given Sight After Device Cracks Retinal Code
Google’s self-driving car takes blind man to Taco Bell
Blind People ’See’ Shapes, Navigate Using Echoes
Blinded Merseyside soldier ’sees’ with tongue device
TouchColor Helps Blind People to Draw
Synesthesia - Numberphile
Synesthesia May Explain Healers Claims of Seeing People’s ’Aura’
David Eagleman - Synesthesia, Unconscious Brain, and Tales from the Afterlives
"Altered States" 1980 - sensory deprivation, hallucinogens, experiments
Sensory-Friendly Film Screenings for Kids with Autism
Eye Contact May Disturb Autistic Kids’ Thinking


Latest News from our Front Page

Sweden Recognizes Palestinian State; Israel Upset
2014 10 31
Sweden on Thursday became the biggest Western European country to recognize a Palestinian state, prompting a strong protest from Israel, which swiftly withdrew its ambassador from Stockholm. The move by Sweden’s new left-leaning government reflects growing international impatience with Israel’s nearly half-century control of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and its blockade of the Gaza Strip. It also comes during increased ...
Fed-Backed Study: How to Brainwash Public into Fearing “Climate Change” Like Ebola
2014 10 31
$84K study seeks ways to make public fear "climate change and overpopulation" The National Science Foundation is funding a study to determine how to brainwash the public into fearing “climate change and overpopulation” as if they were Ebola. The NSF awarded an $84,000 grant to researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo yesterday to figure out how to make ...
Brain decoder can eavesdrop on your inner voice
2014 10 31
As you read this, your neurons are firing – that brain activity can now be decoded to reveal the silent words in your head TALKING to yourself used to be a strictly private pastime. That’s no longer the case – researchers have eavesdropped on our internal monologue for the first time. The achievement is a step towards helping people who cannot ...
6 Million Lies
2014 10 30
“If you do not specify and confront real issues, what you say will surely obscure them. If you do not alarm anyone morally, you yourself remain morally asleep. If you do not embody controversy, what you say will be an acceptance of the drift of the coming hell.” C Wright Mills. I need to share information I have discovered ...
Google’s New Computer With Human-Like Learning Abilities Will Program Itself
2014 10 30
In college, it wasn’t rare to hear a verbal battle regarding artificial intelligence erupt between my friends studying neuroscience and my friends studying computer science. One rather outrageous fellow would mention the possibility of a computer takeover, and off they went. The neuroscience-savvy would awe at the potential of such hybrid technology as the CS majors argued we have nothing to ...
More News »