“What perception is, every one will know better by reflecting on what he does himself … than by any discourse of mine.”
– John Locke
It wasn’t until I was 12 years old that my parents figured out I was almost as blind as a bat. Like Thomas Nagel, I was unable to imagine what it was like to be a bat, let alone how others could see, so blind I had remained.
A world sharply in focus suddenly appeared and, growing up in a metropolis, there was much to see. The catch: clear-sighted, I was now constantly distracted, caught up in people’s faces, fast-moving objects, billboards, and crowds. My eyes were in focus; my mind was a blur.
In H.G. Wells’s short story The Country of the Blind, after stumbling across blind villagers living in a remote valley, the sighted Nunez gleefully recites to himself, “In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King”. He attempts to describe the wonders of sight to them, however they regard him as more fool than king: newly-formed, stumbling, without senses.
Of all the perceptual wonders that vision grants us, living in a hyper-visual culture – one ruled by screens and scenes – can at times cause us to become like Nunez: obtuse, distracted, blind to other ways of perceiving the world. However there is, we must remind ourselves, much more than meets the eye.