The world looks a lot softer without my glasses. There is less to process: only the things in front of me, the rest just blurs out of my consciousness. But, it also feels strange, as if my mind is trying to adapt to this low definition view, but is struggling. Putting on my glasses, I instantly feel relieved, and the world reveals its crisper details.
My father couldn’t ever see those details. Operated for a congenital cataract back in the 60s in India, his vision was severely weakened, and it gradually led to Glaucoma. Over the years, he lost a significant amount of his sight. But, he had a model of the world in his memory, and he used it to navigate it. He knew more areas of the city than I ever did, and would tell the auto-rickshaw driver the correct directions, referencing popular landmarks. Now that I am reflecting on vision, I wish I could ask him, how he knew these details or how did he see it in his minds eye. This also makes me question, how would someone who has never seen the world, perceive it.
A few years back, I participated in an experience known as “A dialogue in the dark”, which is a set of rooms that were absolutely devoid of light. You were given a cane and had to navigate these rooms, be aware of the walls and the floor, identify things in a kitchen counter based on smell and touch, play blind cricket, ride a boat and eventually order coffee at a booth. Despite the complete darkness, I had a model of the world: a vocabulary I can call into instantly, and use it to effectively navigate and identify my surroundings. I wonder how one builds such a model if they haven’t ever had vision.
This was written for a class: Dialogue of the Senses, offered at the University of Michigan