Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Blindsight - A Possible Explanation

I was doing some blindfold training with two training partners after a jujutsu class one night while I was still orange belt (I think). Sensei Greg Palmer was watching us train and suggested an exercise.

I was blindfolded and the other two were not. Upon Greg's instruction, the three of use walked randomly around the dojo until he instructed us to stop and stand still. Greg asked me to point to X and when I had pointed he asked me to point to Y.

I'm relatively open-minded and so tried to visualise or feel something that would guide me to their individual locations. Nothing. Out of frustration I pointed to a spot when asked to point to X and likewise for Y. 'This is rubbish,' I thought.

When I took off my blindfold I found I had pointed directly at X when asked to do so and was about five degrees off for Y. X was my regular training partner and Y I only trained with sporadically.

We conducted the exercise again with the same results. The same results including that I felt or perceived nothing but I pointed directly at X each time I was asked to do so and off by five degrees for Y.

During the last session, I turned while we were walking around the dojo (blindfolded). Greg asked why I turned. 'There was a wall in front of me,' I replied. There was.

The final time, Greg asked me to point to X, Y, and the nearest wall. He then asked me how far they were away from me. Spot on with X and the wall and slightly off with Y.

I don't know how I did it. I never tried it again in case I couldn't replicate the results, preferring to have that unblemished memory of something quite extraordinary. Today I read an article on 'blindsight' that may (or may not) explain my experience.

 It ranks among the most curious phenomena in cognitive neuroscience. A handful of people in the world have “blindsight”: they are blind, but their non-conscious brain can still sense their surroundings.
 "The way Dutton explained it was ‘Don’t think about it too much, just go and do it. Don’t think too much in your mind.’ It was my subconscious mind telling me how to do that task and to avoid hitting the chairs.
“I can walk around the house ok, and tidy things up. But I can’t see them. I know they’re there. My brain is telling me. It’s the same if the family have left things lying in the middle of the living room floor. I say ‘you need to tidy up, so I don’t trip over these things’. If there is something lying there, like a handbag or shoes, I can see it and I miss it, or I go to pick it up.
“But I’ll try to look at you, and I know you’re sitting there, sitting close… but I just can’t see you."

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