and the blind could see
May 8, 2003 12:59 PM   Subscribe

'Bionic eye' breakthrough can allow the blind to see. One by one the miracles of Jesus are replaced by science.
posted by The Jesse Helms (14 comments total)
Walking on water has already been done.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:04 PM on May 8, 2003

Water into wine anyone?
posted by FiveFrozenFish at 1:05 PM on May 8, 2003

Yea, Jesus could only walk on water in a huge $2,399 inflatable hamster wheel.
posted by andrewzipp at 1:08 PM on May 8, 2003

Fascinating. I wonder, Will this be as controversial in the blind community as cochlear implants (particularly in children) are in the deaf community? Or is there just no comparison?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:10 PM on May 8, 2003

I think since the deaf have an actual language from which a particular culture has emerged, a scandal like the cochlear implants probably would not arise within the blind community. Language is a powerful component of identity, and I do not know if the blind have other cultural traits that would make this a very divisive issue.
posted by lychee at 1:19 PM on May 8, 2003

I think since the deaf have an actual language from which a particular culture has emerged, a scandal like the cochlear implants probably would not arise within the blind community.

That's very true, but some in the community argue that deafness isn't a handicap and that cochlear implants are unnecessary for that reason. It's too early to tell at this point, but I wonder if there might be a similarly "radical" faction amongst the blind when/if these implants began to render braille obsolete. Again though, not really the same cultural impact as a separate verbal (in intent anyway) language I would think.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:28 PM on May 8, 2003

Thanks for the news TJH. No thanks for the gratuitous stab at Christianity.
posted by turbodog at 1:59 PM on May 8, 2003

The blind people I know have a much better sense of humour than the few militant deaf people I've met. Perhaps being able to sense sarcasm in a tone of voice really goes a long way.

Most blind people I know would probably get the impland and not tell anyone they had it, perhaps playing pranks on their seeing-eye dogs for a while.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:01 PM on May 8, 2003

There's a lot more to seeing than having functioning senses. Those born blind have great trouble understanding what the new sense is telling them - much of it is unwelcome. Here's a transcript of a web chat with Mike May, who had his lifelong blindness corrected in his forties and featured in the superb documentary The Man who learned how to see.
posted by grahamwell at 2:42 PM on May 8, 2003

Wow, graham. Thanks for the great links!
posted by syzygy at 4:15 PM on May 8, 2003

If you can find "The Persistence of Vision" by John Varley, it's an amazingly prescient (1978)—and moving—science fiction story dealing with these issues.
posted by languagehat at 4:50 PM on May 8, 2003

Although, grahamwell, the article says the prosthesis is only being used on people who lost their sight due to a disease, and still have some remaining cells, not people born blind.
posted by Hildago at 5:05 PM on May 8, 2003

It's a shame I couldn't find more. The documentary was extraordinarily powerful - lobby your PBS station and they may show it. Part of its power was the contrast between Mikes experiences and those of his only known precursor, a British patient who had his sight restored in the early 1960s. He was initially entranced by his new vision, but quickly became irritated by things like dirt and graffiti, that had not been part of his world before. He thought himself ugly and eventually committed suicide. In short he'd been functioning in society as a blind person, with his sight restored he was thrown into an uncharted limbo which he couldn't deal with.

Mike May shines in the documentary because he is a very likeable and intelligent person. His learning process is fascinating. He has to learn, for example, that things look smaller when they are further away and that if something is behind another you can't see it. He will never be able to read faces, the part of our brain that processes faces in the visual field is enormous and in Mike has been co-opted by the brain for something else.

Catch it if you can. If nothing else it will make you appreciate what an astonishing gift sight is.
posted by grahamwell at 8:26 AM on May 9, 2003

Powdered wine, anyone?

Last link, last paragraph.
posted by Cerebus at 8:43 AM on May 9, 2003

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