Is What We See Really There?
How many of us judge people instantly and visually based on their external appearance? Although we may not want to, many studies have demonstrated that we all do this, despite good intentions, in the first seconds of meeting someone. This discrimination is built right into our eyes/brains. Is there anything we can do about it?
In the twenty-first century, the role of vision has far transcended the intimate local interpersonal. Technologically based means of visual extension and prosthesis have themselves become more and more ordinary and ubiquitous in the early years of this century. Sophisticated camera equipment is in the hands of every cell phone user. The images captured in this way as well as others can almost instantly be sent around the planet to those with the equipment to receive them. Scientists can almost as easily watch the brain in action with the prosthetic aid of functional MRIs and PET scans. Technological eyes are everywhere that biological ones cannot be.
Vision is everywhere engendering and racializing as well. What is femininity? What is masculinity? Does appearance elicit rape? Are attractive people treated differently? Can we expect different behaviors of individuals with different skin pigmentation?
What if all these visual cues and visual requirements were absent and unavailable?
I began to wonder how, in a society without sight, the judgments and perspectives developed visually would be made. In fact, would ideas so visually based, such as those about attractiveness, gender, or race have ever been invented? We learn to recognize races and genders and to attribute complex meanings to them. These codes are built right in to our eye/brain, deeply buried in what can seem to us the orderly representation of reality, of what is out there.
And that is a good question. What is really out there and what do our human senses create? Is anything “really” out there absent our eyes and minds
To answer these questions, I set out to study individuals who have never had access to sight. Did they develop an entirely different system, a different first language, and, if so, what was it and how did it stand up to the language of vision? I wanted to learn what I could about sight by staring into blind eyes. This project then was something of a vision quest with at least two pre-conceived purposes. The first was to find out what it is like to be blind. The second was to find out what it is like to be sighted, or what I came to think of as normal or ordinary blindness. How would we categorize each other, how would we discriminate were it not for the details of vision transmitted to our human brains?” I will answer these questions in the next several blogs. I will share my adventures in the world of the blind.