Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Evening thoughts on blindness

This is essentially an anecdote, so I'm afraid I will have to spoil you with more green text printed in italics.

On the way back from town I was combining several thoughts that have been occupying my mind for a while. Two days ago I picked up Derren Brown's "Tricks of the Mind" in which I started learning about the "Linkage system", "Loci system", "Memory palace" as well as some other fascinating strategies for memorising networks of information. Without boring you with the details (though I can assure you they are all worth studying) what links all of the strategies is visualising words. It made me really think about whether the mind actually does work mostly in terms of the visual perception we have of events; how else could these memory systems work so incredibly well? I was thinking of evolution, and how most information we actually take in does come from the sensory stimuli picked up by the eyes; only on occasion did a car drive by. In fact there really was very little that went on in the realm of sound.
     And so I decided to force myself to adapt myself to the world of the blind. I am fairly certain some Asian people are able to sense their surroundings using secret meditative processes involving the ears, while keeping their eyes closed, and whether or not this outrageous stereotype holds any truth, I wanted to attempt it myself. First I needed to calibrate my sense of distance with the length of my steps. For every distinct feature along my path, such as a shadow, or a bush, or a crack in the tarmac, I would guess how many steps it would take to reach it, close my eyes, walk the prescribed number of steps, then judge the result. Obviously my judgement was fairly erroneous at first, but I am getting used to the sensation and in a few years time I can cut my eyes out for good and move to a mountain top in Asia and dye my hair white.
     In any case, this very eccentric practice should definitely alarm people passing me in the streets, but more importantly it takes my mind away from the dreary task of mentally assessing how long time it will take to get home. Frankly, though, I usually tend to counter that boredom by pretending to be fascinated by mundane things such as passing cars and bright office windows, imagining all the silly people who haven't yet asked themselves whether they are justified in being annoyed by the rain, and who haven't yet tried to walk blindly at the risk of being ridiculed by passers by.


  1. Interesting. Removing senses also enhances the remaining ones. Closing your eyes when eating a new exotic dish proves quite different from gobbling anything down mindlessly. One risks being ridiculed just like when practicing the blind walking, but looking down (with the eyes closed, seeming concentrated) may discretely hide it from conventional people.

    I had a similar thought on senses earlier, but more focused on hearing. I bought ear plugs for studying, replacing the headset used for listening to music. For reading and acquiring information I find this actually clears out unnecessary input and gets one into a zone. One can hear oneself think. When it comes to doing repetitive problems one has a decent grasp of I still "allow myself" to put on some music. This may be related to the first point I raised. Removing a sense helps the brain focus on the other ones. Makes sense me as long as it works... and it seems to do just that.

    1. Yeah. The problem with food is that the visual aspect can affect the taste as well, so although it (closing your eyes) won't always be a useful tool for appreciating "pretty" food, it will probably help eating food that doesn't look too tasty. It can work both ways.

      Whether or not these techniques are always useful isn't the point though, the important thing is being aware of when they are useful and when they aren't. And in any case, even if they aren't useful, they will always teach us something interesting about our brain.