Caught in a narrative? On the idea of getting sight as a congenitally blind individual.
Recently, I was asked a question that comes up occasionally: “If you were ever offered an opportunity to see, would you take it?”. In this case, the implication of the question, which was asked by a sighted person with little familiarity with blindness, was clearly: “Why wouldn’t you take it? Which sort of irrational agent would not take it?”
First, I should say that given my particular circumstances with no optic nerve and two prosthetic eyes, such a possibility may not be likely to be available in the near future, so I might never have to face this dilemma, but let’s just, for the duration of this post, make the rules of our own thought experiment. This post is not about guesses on what such a potential technology would look like, since I don’t think myself fully qualified to have an educated guess on this. It’s about the cognitive dissonance that I have when asked if I would take the opportunity to get vision, given that near future technology would enable (or at least simulate) sight.
I’m excited about technological developments and do not think the idea of transhumanism, the enhancement of human capabilities through artificial means, neither crazy nor far fetched. If I was offered to upload myself into an artificial structure that enabled me to create multiple simulations of my brain with different configurations, or otherwise alter my human capacity with technology, I’d probably be among the most eager to jump on the band wagon (I usually don’t even jump on that many band wagons).
However, when asked whether I wanted to have vision, given such an opportunity, again, under the assumptions that (1) it was possible, and (2) the methods had been carefully tested for any associated risks or damages, I usually default to the argument that I’ve always been blind. However, I have also always been a human without any technological enhancements added to me. What to do.
I could make many additional arguments why I wouldn’t want to gain vision, among which would be the prospect of starting as a novice, the idea that my brain still would not interpret the signals appropriately, and that, even if the method was tested on other blind people, a potential risk can’t be ruled out, since circumstances of blindness differ. However, I think my reasoning about blindness has more to do with the emotional attachment to blindness, in the sense that by getting sight, I’m endorsing the idea that this is everything a blind person could wish for, and that it’s an end to the terribly tragic life that blind people would otherwise have, which would be reinforcing the narrative that most sighted people unfamiliar with blindness would subscribe to. I might not have sight, but I’m capable of solving my problems and am doing what I’m interested in, and I’m doing it my way.
As a sidenote, if I would ever want to become sighted, it would be for the share curiosity and with the promise that there’d be a switch-off button in order to escape the potential madness that could be elicited in my brain. If I was promised a switch-off button and thereby given both opportunities, even if I can’t be sure how sight would change my perception, I don’t really see a reason not to do it.
I’m very critical of people’s tendencies to base a belief or an opinion on narratives, namely related to the Trump situation as well as cultural and religious narratives, and completely ignore the internal inconsistencies and lack of critical analysis that they potentially bring. I guess I’m pretty caught up in a narrative myself; more specifically the “don’t tell me what to do” narrative. In other words, I guess you just exposed my humanity. I’m likely to remain in this position.