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Does a person blind from birth see images in their head?

Does a person blind from birth see images in their head? If they see images do they accurately reflect the physical reality? The answer might be found by consulting a person blind from birth who then gains sight at a later stage in life.
Paul Schofield from Isle of Wight (Age 55+)

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One Response

  1. There are two (related) parts to this question. Firstly, do visual abilities develop only with experience of sight? And, secondly, are the “images” in our heads dependent on the same brain processes as sight itself?

    There have been many cases of patients who were blind from birth and who have in later life gained sight following the removal of cataracts or, more recently, by corneal transplants. However, the visual capacities and experiences of these patients have varied considerably. One such case has been described by Oliver Sacks (“To see and not to see”. New Yorker, May 10th, 1993, reprinted in his “An Anthropologist on Mars”). The problem here is that it is difficult to know what to conclude – if the patient cannot perform some visual task, then we can point to the evidence that sensory systems degenerate when deprived of input; if the patient can perform a particular visual task, we must suspect that he or she was never 100% blind.

    During visual development it seems that there is a particular stage during which the appropriate visual experience is critical. This stage has been described as the “sensitive period”, and if an animal is deprived of a particular feature of the visual world during this period, the brain processes that analyze that feature may never develop properly.

    The process of visual imagery does seem to use some of the same brain mechanisms as used in visual perception. So we’d guess that visual deprivation during the sensitive period might influence visual imagery. But some aspects of “imagery”, such as representations of texture, spatial form, depth, motion, might equally be educated by other senses, e.g. touch.

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