Can you imagine the feeling of a born blind person when he/she gets sight for the first time? Is it pleasurable or terrifying? Let’s see the actual picture of how do they feel.
Cases of New-Born Infants
An embryo couldn’t see anything when she is inside mother’s womb. After she is born and when she enters the world for the first time, the infant has a very strange feeling. The world is entirely different than it was inside mother’s womb. One of the most basic new feeling that the infant perceives is the feeling of sight i.e. to be able to see things.
For a few weeks, the eyes are not fully developed and thereafter once the baby begins to see, she starts to correlate her vision with the subjected things. This at first is very inconvenient for the baby, but she in fact has no other choice but the learn. This is a continuous learning process and the baby develops a knowledge base where she can recognize things with images or visions seen before. Gradually she adapts the habit of visualization and the feeling of sight is no more an unfamiliar or unusual process.
Cases of Born-Blind Adults who have recovered vision
Think about a born-blind person who later gets vision after a cataract surgery or cornea implant. He is able to see no doubt, but here along comes the big problem. The sight is of no use and meaningless. Most of the time it is confusing and terrifying. How??? 🙁
The person has no idea what he is looking at. Suppose we, the normal persons when look at a CD we immediately recognize the thing as a CD. When this particular person (born-blind) looks at a CD, he sees a large circle with a small circle in the middle along with unusual symbols and colors between the two circles. This feeling confuses him and most of the time is annoying and terrifying. The vision is of no use to him unless he recognize the object.
The process of developing recognition ideas with vision at an adult stage is very difficult and is impossible often. It can damage the person emotionally. It does more loss than good.
Case of Roman Poet, Publius Vergilius Maro
The behavior of not recognizing things while looking at them is called Visual Agnosia in medical terminology. One of the earliest known cases of Visual Agnosia is the roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro (Oct 15, 70 BC – Sep 21, 19 BC) commonly popular with the name Virgil. He saw very little until he had cataract surgery at 50. Thereafter he gained clear vision. He could then see things very clearly and distinctly, but was not able to recognize those things. He had no idea of what he was looking at. All that he can see was mere geometrical figures and unknown colors with no meanings.
The situation was terrifying for him and he often shut his eyes so that he couldn’t see anymore. The visions emotionally broke him down and he went into depression. He died of pneumonia soon after his cataract surgery.
Cases of Visual Agnosia due to Injury
Almost one-third of human brain is devoted to vision only. Any brain injury can directly affect vision which can potentially damage the ability to see and recognize.
Visual Agnosia doesn’t always happen to born-blinds who recovered sight. Sometimes people with normal sight catch Visual Agnosia after injury in posterior occipital and temporal lobes or brain. They can see things but loose their ability to recognize those things.
Visualizations and Feelings of Persons with Visual Agnosia
The persons with Visual Agnosia generally look at objects and generally recognize them as just animated and non-animated geometrical figures. They can’t recognize faces and have difficulty in recognizing irregular figures. Colors also confuse them.
The other major problem that the patient encounters is spatial distance recognition. He is sometimes unable to recognize 3D and visualize the phenomenon as 2D. For example, if someone is running away, then the patient will feel as if the object is just shrinking. On the other hand, if someone is approaching, then the patient will feel the object to be just expanding.
Here is a very informative 13 minute video documentary on Visual Agnosia :