Previously, I wrote about how I think having limited hearing and vision has limited my awareness in ways superficially similar to some autism symptoms, mainly the ones around tending towards highly focused activities. I’ve since had some experience enhancing my sensory channels - this post is about vision.
A couple of weeks ago I bought glasses with larger lenses - large enough to fill almost my entire field of vision, as part of my project to widen my sensory channels. Immediately, it felt like I was in a larger world, and a more three-dimensional one. If someone was to the side of me, it felt like they were still real, even if I wasn’t looking directly at them. My situational awareness noticeably improved. But the lenses were heavy, and the glasses were huge and goggle-like and kept slipping off my face if it was warm and I sweated at all. This was pretty annoying in the gym.
Last Thursday, I put in contact lenses for the first time. I was used to not being able to see distant things unless I had my glasses on. Repeatedly, I had the sense that since my glasses were off, I shouldn’t be able to read far away things - and yet I could! My only prior experience with this was in dreams, so it felt like I was dreaming.
I think that relying on glasses and hearing aids helped give me the strong intuition that my experience of the world is mediated - that I don’t have direct sensory access to the things themselves, but only through tools like lenses can I distort the raw sense data into something intelligible. There are good philosophical arguments for the same thing - but for me it’s more vivid and obvious, my attention is drawn to it every day, when I can’t process very much visual or auditory data until I have interposed these devices between myself and the world. So with contact lenses which I couldn’t see, which weren’t obvious salient mediating factors, I felt like I must be hallucinating, to think I could see objects so clearly. I distrusted my sensations, because I couldn’t see how they were mediated.
It also felt subtly scary to have the sense that I was really in the world, and the world didn’t stop when I looked away from it. I think that having glasses, with a very strong prescription, gave me the sense that people and things basically lived inside my glasses (since that’s the only place I could see them), and that if I took them off, they couldn’t touch me, I couldn’t interact with them. I think this is part of why it feels so jarring to be touched by someone I wasn’t looking directly at. On some level I was aware this was possible, but it felt more or less like being in a car with open windows - mainly you look forward through the windshield to make sure there aren’t obstructions. Sure, someone could theoretically reach through the door window-frame and tap you on the shoulder, but if would be very strange for anyone to actually do so.
With glasses, I had the strong sense that at any moment I could take them off and live in a kind of half-world where there were tactile sensations but people weren’t really real, didn’t have faces, I could think and act and exist without having to take them into account. With contacts there’s no longer the illusion of that kind of escape hatch. The only way to be alone is to be alone - to go into a room where there’s no one else, and shut the door.
So far, I haven’t noticed anyone being less nice to me, or it being harder to get strangers to talk to me, with the giant goggle-like glasses - or anyone being more nice to me or paying any more attention to me when I have my contact lenses in.
Request for information
As usual, I want outside information about this. I want to know what you think. I prefer if you tell me directly, but if that’s not feasible, I’m happy to get feedback through my anonymous feedback form.