For 24 hours I will be blind and alone in my apartment. I eventually want to try being blind for a week, but I’ll need seven days with no other obligations, and I won’t have that for a while. For now, I’ll suffice with a smaller-scale experiments with a few extra provisions for added difficulty.
- I must leave my blindfold on for 24 hours.
- If I remove the blindfold, I have failed the experiment
- If the blindfold falls off or I can get partial sight, I have failed the experiment.
- I am only allowed to readjust my blindfold if I can see light.
- I must not be in contact with any other people for 24 hours.
- I cannot answer my phone or any other messaging system.
- I cannot receive in-person visitors.
- If someone knocks at the door, I cannot answer verbally or physically.
- I will set an alarm for 24 hours. I cannot set any other alarms or use any other means to ascertain the time.
- It is up to me to keep my phone charged so the alarm goes off.
- I cannot leave my apartment.
Why Am I Doing This?
I have no good reason. I just want to see if I am capable of doing it and what will happen. Some things I’m curious about:
- Do I have the willpower to get through the experiment?
- Will I become disoriented from losing all sense of time?
- Will I be able to stave off boredom with podcasts, audiobooks, and music on my phone?
- Will I enter some sort of meditative state due to a lack of sensory input?
- Will I hallucinate?
- Will my non-sight senses heighten?
- Will I hurt myself by falling or banging into something?
- Will I sleep?
- Will I eat? Is consuming caffeine a good idea (for entertainment) or a bad idea (energy with no direction)?
- Will this experience make me more interested in being blind for a week? Or less?
Attempt One started at 10:30 AM and failed at 1:13 PM. I purposefully took off my blindfold because I was worried that my multiple failures to input my Iphone’s password had resulted in a permanent lock or data wipe. But the password screen was just locked for a minute and all was well.
Given that I failed in the early afternoon, I considered restarting the experiment on another day in the morning. But I had already carved out a 24 hour period when I wouldn’t do any work or be disturbed, and it might have been a week or two longer before I got that opportunity again.
So I checked my messages, briefly went on Reddit, and then restarted.
Attempt Two was successful. I put on my blindfold at 1:23 PM on Thursday, November 5, 2020. I removed it at 1:28 PM on Friday, November 6.
It was an… interesting experience. I don’t recommend it, but I’m glad I did it. I’m not sure where to begin in describing it, especially since I couldn’t take notes, and part of the challenge was being confused. But I’ll do my best to break down the experience.
To simulate blindness, I used a dark blue scarf as a blindfold. One layer wasn’t quite dark enough, so I folded it in half for extra light defense.
With the blindfold securely on, my vision was the same whether my eyes were open or closed. I kept my eyes closed 99.9% of the time since it was usually more comfortable and helped limit light. I occasionally opened my eyes to check the brightness level and to… I guess you could call it stretch my eyelids. They don’t feel good if you leave them closed for too long.
I couldn’t get a perfect scarf seal around my eyes, so sometimes when I tilted my head back while sitting I noticed a little light come into the bottom of my vision. To limit this, I often pinched the scarf around my nose in that position. But many/most blind people can see some light anyway, so I don’t think this was a significant violation of the experiment.
My eyes got quite dry under the scarf, so I applied moisturizer to this lids and sockets four or five times. I wanted to use eyedrops too, but there was no way to do so without failing the experiment.
Initially, everything was black, but as the day went on and the sun went down, I could tell it was nighttime even through two layers of scarf and my eyelids. I’m not sure if I could tell because my eyes had adjusted to become extremely sensitive to light, or if there were other subtle signals (ie. noises, air temperature, circadian rhythms, etc.) which my body picked up on. As evidence of the latter, I could not see any difference between the tv being on or off, nor the refrigerator being opened or closed, even when I was sitting right in front of either.
What I saw depended on how I applied my focus. If I did focus on my vision, I’d see the typical blackness you get from closing your eyes, but it was never perfectly black nor uniform; there was always some odd movement and occasional coloring (whiteness, pale blue, or sometimes red). The most common distortions were a swirling or flowing whiteness, sort of like cream in coffee. I hoped that being blindfolded for so long would make the distortions more extreme, but for the most part it looked no different than what you’d see if you closed your eyes right now for ten minutes.
There was one exception. It must have been about 20+ hours into the experiment, and my eyes were itching, so I rubbed both of them at the same time over the scarf. If you rub your closed eyes and focus on your sight any time you can see some weird stuff, but this was far more extreme than usual. I remember my entire vision filling up with white bubbles which then broke and briefly returned to black. Then white lightning bolt shapes stretched across my sight, expanded to make my vision purely white, and then slowly faded back to black. The strangest thing about it was the brightness. I literally felt like I was staring into lights despite being blindfolded in a dark room. Unfortunately, it only lasted about 30 seconds, but my heart was racing.
More notable than what I saw was what I didn’t see. By default, I was lost in thought and I focused on nothing. In such a state, I didn’t even register my vision or notice the darkness. I think this made my imagination and mental visualization more acute. On occasion, I’d be deep in thought and I’d get the brightness sensation again because I’d be mentally picturing something so vividly that the inevitable return to darkness felt like shutting off the lights in my brain. I’ll explain more about this in the Three Phases section.
Sadly, I did not hallucinate, or at least not as far as I could tell.
This was the most surprising aspect of the experiment.
I read that blind people have trouble getting to sleep because they don’t access any/enough light for their circadian rhythms. I seem to have the exact opposite problem. Without light, my body always thinks it’s time to sleep and has trouble doing anything else. Throughout most of the experiment, I felt extremely lethargic, lazy, and had to fight to stay awake.
I started my first failed experiment attempt at 10:30 AM. I had gotten 7.5 solid hours of sleep, I hadn’t done anything tiring the previous day, and I generally felt fine. Then I put on my blindfold, and within thirty minutes I was nodding off. I semi-slept for two hours before deciding to get an energy drink to get myself out of the funk. That worked, but as soon as it wore off, I was back in semi-sleep mode.
Even when I was firmly awake, I generally felt weak and lethargic. Movement around the apartment was annoying of course, but made so much more difficult by my energy levels. I ended up lying perfectly still in my comfy computer chair with my feet on a table 95% of the time. That is, when I wasn’t lying in bed.
On the other hand, when I removed my blindfold after 24 hours, I experienced a burst of energy. Seriously, it was like I had downed a double shot of espresso. It was like a switch had been flicked. The haziness and cobwebs were gone in an instant, and I felt the energy coursing through my body. I guess light has a big impact on me.
I moved exactly how you’d expect… clumsily.
For the most part, I slowly walked around my apartment with a hand out to feel for walls and edges. Sometimes I’d get lazy and crawl just so it was easier. I know my apartment well enough that it wasn’t hard to get around, but every once in awhile I’d lose track of where I was and would be left slowly swinging my arm around searching for anything. It’s not a pleasant sensation.
Before the experiment, I had planned to pace around for fun, or maybe even do some exercise with the free time. But the confusion and especially the lethargy stopped all that. I just sat in my chair and didn’t move unless I needed to get a drink, go to the bathroom, or sleep.
I kind of wish I had done the experiment in an unfamiliar environment to add to the movement challenge, but oh well.
For food, I ate a big lunch at 10 AM before the experiment and then munched on dark chocolate throughout the night. I felt the heavy lethargy well before the lack of calories was an issue. I probably should have put some prepackaged meals in my fridge to eat, but I was worried about making a mess and not being able to clean up. Do I want ants? Because that’s how I get ants.
For drinks, I could manage to get to the kitchen and fill a cup with water when I needed to. I never took a full cup back to my chair just in case I knocked it over (clean up would be a nightmare). I also had some diet coke to serve as entertainment and put a little caffeine in me.
For the bathroom, I (a man) peed sitting down. I’m not ashamed to admit it.
As part of the experiment, I never knew what time it was. This was intended to confuse me throughout the 24 hours, and it did, but it may have helped too. With no sense of time, it was easy to sit back and not think about it. Time drifted by and I existed. That was that.
I actually did ask Siri for the time once… it was late in the experiment, and it felt like I had put on the blindfold forever ago. As you’d expect, time feels like it moves slowly when you’re blind and have little to do. I kept waiting for my alarm to go off on my phone… but it never did.
Finally, I gave up and was willing to fail a part of my challenge by asking Siri what time it was. She told me it was 1:28 PM. The alarm was already supposed to have gone off.
I figured out later that I had accidentally snoozed the alarm the instant it had gone off while blindly hitting my phone to pause a song. Thus, my failure of will occurred outside the boundaries of the experiment, and I do not consider it a disqualifying action.
Likewise, as far as I could tell, my other senses were not enhanced in any noticeable way, but… I did appreciate my other senses more, and that seemed to enhance at least my enjoyment of them. I swear the dark chocolate and those diet cokes tasted better than ever. And as I’ll explain in Three Phases, music was sometimes especially pleasurable.
As part of the rules of the experiment, I could not interact with any other people, either in person or digitally. So I ended up skirting close to two other experiments I want to do eventually:
- Sit in a room for 24 hours and do absolutely nothing.
- Listen to music for 24 hours straight
Siri became both my best friend and worst enemy. Initially I wanted to ban Siri to make it more challenging for me, but I figured that would be too close to the “sit in a room and do nothing challenge.” Fortunately/unfortunately, dealing with Siri was enough of a challenge on its own.
First, I wanted to listen to audiobooks. I finished the last hour of Caesar: Life of a Colossus, and then got ready to start the next book on my Audible list, but… Siri couldn’t get me to it. I tried a dozen different voice commands. Didn’t work.
So I moved on to podcasts. I told Siri to play my podcast app, and it booted up a mercifully long Joe Rogan Experience episode. Then I told her to play “Sam Harris,” and that didn’t work. I told her to play “Making Sense podcast,” and that didn’t work. I tried more Joe Rogan, and that didn’t work. I switched over to Spotify, but I could only get the same Joe Rogan episode going.
Fucking Siri. Or fucking me for being too stupid to use Siri properly. No… fuck her. If I can’t figure out how to get Siri to play an old podcast while I’m sitting in the dark with a blindfold on with literally nothing else to do for 24 hours, it’s Siri’s fault, not mine.
I resorted to music most of the time. But I’m not a music person. I never listen to music unless I’m doing something else that takes up the vast majority of my attention, like writing or playing video games. Even when I’m driving or walking around, I default to podcasts and audiobooks. But music was all I had so that’s what I listened to. Sometimes I used headphones, but that was a bit eerie late at night… I already felt pretty vulnerable sitting alone and blind in an apartment… alone, blind, and functionally deaf somehow felt even worse.
A bonus annoyance was that there was no way for me to stop my phone’s audio except to blindly press spaces where I thought the pause button might be. Finding the right spot might take two seconds, or it might take a minute. That entirely depended upon display factors over which I had no control nor knowledge given my blindness.
When I periodically got bored of music, I resorted to asking Siri questions. If you ask her anything too complex, she just brings up a web browser for you, and I couldn’t see the screen, so that was useless. But at least she could tell me simple stuff, so I ended up learning a lot about the population sizes of European cities and the net worths of celebrities. Joe Biden is a lot poorer than I thought.
I eventually considered getting drunk, but I decided against it. The alcohol would distort the raw experimental experience too much.
Movies I Was Reminded Of During the Experiment
Bird Box. An obvious one, but even beyond the surface-level comparison, I genuinely feel like I understand Bird Box better now. It is truly unnerving to wear a blindfold all the time. You feel vulnerable, helpless, like the rest of the world passes you by.
Ad Astra. Specifically the montage when Brad Pitt sits in a spaceship for months all alone and slowly loses his mind. Trying to avoid spoilers here.
Blindness. Or rather, I’m pissed off at the entire movie for not accurately portraying all the newly blind people as incredibly lazy and sleepy all the time.
Slumdog Millionaire. Part of the reason I wanted to do this experiment was to confront a minor fear I’ve always had of going blind. The idea of permanently losing my ability to see the world is absolutely horrifying. I would probably prefer death.
What best exemplifies this fear to me is the scene in Slumdog Millionaire when the guy knocks out the little beggar kid and burns his eyes with some sort of hot liquid so he will wake up blind for the rest of his life as a higher-earning beggar. I thought about that scene more than I would have liked to throughout the experiment.
Dark Knight Rises.
“You think darkness is your ally… But you merely adopted the dark; I was boooooorn in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until 2:28 PM on Thursday. By then it was nothing to me but BLINDING!”
The Three Phases
I was blind, alone, and confused for 24 hours. Aside from the time I was asleep (which I can’t determine), I generally cycled through three phases of being.
The Daze Phase consisted of slowly drifting in and out of consciousness and entering a quasi-dream state.
As mentioned, despite getting plenty of sleep and feeling fine, I became lethargic and had trouble staying awake almost immediately after putting on the blindfold. When I got too tired to do anything else, I would accept the Daze Phase by crawling into bed or leaning back in my comfy computer chair, or even putting on some light music. Then my mind would flow between topics, never really latching on to something, but never being bored either. There’s a pleasantness to the feeling… a mindless ease. It’s a good way to kill minutes or hours without noticing.
It reminded me a lot of when I was young and would lay down in the back seat during long car rides and try to sleep with my headphones on and CD playing. The movement of the vehicle and discomfort of the seat would keep me awake, but general tiredness and having nothing else to do would push me toward sleep. My mind would drift between semi-conscious thoughts and dreams, leaving me right on the edge of consciousness and sleep.
The Daze Phase is an intensification of this feeling. This is a bit hard to explain, but…
Think about waking up in the morning. You’re asleep… but not entirely. You’re dreaming, but you can feel wakefulness coming. Your uncontrolled, wandering dream thoughts and visualizations become weaker and more sporadic as you regain consciousness. Typically, opening your eyes and seeing the world, even just for a moment, is enough to finally knock you out of sleep and make you fully conscious (albeit still tired).
Being blindfolded messes with that process. Because when you open your eyes, you get almost no visual input to clash against the dreamy visualizations.
As a result, sometimes it was hard for me to tell when I was dreaming and when I was awake. In that hazy space between consciousness and sleep, I wasn’t always sure whether I had consciously produced a thought, or if my unconscious dreaming mind had visualized it for me.
A weird side effect of this process was that sometimes my mental visualization felt brighter than my physical visual field. Again, this is very hard to explain, but… normally with the blindfold on, I would see nothing but darkness. Then I would get lost in thought and mentally visualize something, either consciously or via semi-sleep dreaming. Eventually, I would come back to full conscious thought and see my black visual field. The contrast between my mental visualization and the black visual field made the former feel brighter than the latter, even though neither had any real brightness.
I would estimate that the Daze Phases took up about 1/3rd of the experiment, and were actually pretty enjoyable. It’s impossible for me to adequately describe it here, but it seems to be a version of that pleasant consciousness drift you sometimes get while moving in or out of sleep which is enhanced by the suppression of visual stimuli.
There’s good evidence that if an individual damages or destroys one sense, other senses become stronger to compensate for it. I’m not sure if I suppressed my vision for long enough to achieve this, and I’m not sure if this is just a placebo effect, but I subjectively enjoyed listening to music while blind more than usual.
It was not only far easier for me to get into a music-listening flow state than usual, but I also got into a deeper flow state. And it was kind of a relaxed flow state where I didn’t care what the next song was as long as it was good. Despite having no visual input, there were hours where I was experiencing a high level of enjoyment just sitting in darkness and listening to music.
And then I found a way to enhance it.
For a separate experiment, I bought some nicotine lozenges. I don’t smoke and have no interest in doing so, but I’m investigating whether nicotine is an under-appreciated nootropic. For the hell of it, I popped a lozenge, put on my Spotify “best songs” playlist, and let it ride.
That was one of the most enjoyable 1-2 hours I’ve experienced in a long time. I was manic, I had a head rush, I was thinking intently about narratives and history and other topics I love, and the music was amplifying everything in my mind. I was sitting still in complete darkness with a blindfold on and air pods in, but my mind was going a million miles per hour. The stimulating effects of the nicotine + my favorite music + the darkness and sensory deprivation = a flow state of extreme focus and pleasure. Not that I have much experience, but it felt comparable to being on a hard stimulant.
And no, it wasn’t all due to the nicotine. I had a few lozenges over the previous nights, and I found them enjoyable, but nothing close to that experience.
I don’t recommend that most people do the “blind, alone, and confused for 24 hours experiment” unless you’re super curious about physical and mental deprivation, but I do recommend that non-smokers try the “nicotine + music in the dark” experience purely for the sake of pleasure. I think I will try it again a week from now to see if I can capture the experience without the 8ish hours of prior blindness.
Being blind, alone, and confused for 24 hours isn’t all dream flows and intense musical head rushes. About half the time was really, really boring.
Usually the Malaise Phase would come after waking up from the Daze Phase, but before my mind would settle into the Rave Phase. I’d be bored of music or of asking Siri questions. I’d be too lazy and tired to get up and get water or a diet coke. I’d wonder how much time was left in this stupid experiment, and struggle not to ask Siri. I’d sit in the dark and urge time to move faster.
This was when it was hardest for me to keep going. With nothing to do but think, I wondered why the hell I was sitting in my apartment with a blindfold on. It would have been so easy to take it off, to give up, to salvage what was left of the day instead of doing idiotic experiments. I came close to surrendering once or twice early on when I was a little more awake, but I’m proud to say that I persevered in my idiocy.
There really isn’t much else to say about the Malaise Phase. It was emptiness. There’s so much less to do in the world when you can’t see anything. I couldn’t sleep or stay in a flow state forever, so I spent a lot of time just being bored.
When I woke up after 7.5 hours of sleep after staying awake for 70 hours, I felt the most “well-rested” I ever have been in my entire life. When I opened my eyes to see the world after being blindfolded for 24 hours, I felt…
Again, it’s hard to explain, but everything looked better than it ever had. The wall, the table, the tv, especially the sunlight… everything looked good in some intangible way. Colors were a bit more vibrant, everything seemed really sharp and high-definition, if that makes sense. I physically enjoyed having my vision back.
Also, for about ten minutes, my vision had this extra motion-blur to it, sort of like what happens if you drink too much caffeine (I hadn’t had any for 12 hours). And, for about two hours, I found it difficult to read or focus on anything small. Both effects faded over time.
As mentioned, my energy levels came roaring back. I felt my heart pump faster, I felt any hint of sleepiness vanish, and I wanted to get up and walk around. Likewise, my mood rose too, especially after having spent the last few hours in a Malaise Phase.
Basically, after removing the blindfold I became super chipper. The world looked amazing. I felt good. I wanted to do things. I was sure as hell happy to be out of the blindfold.
Writing two days later, the “everything looks good” sensation dissipated by that night, but I’m still in a good mood.
What Did I Learn?
I learned that taking away a sense will make you very glad to have it back.
I learned that taking away a sense can cause interesting distortions in other mental and physical processes.
I learned that using a nicotine lozenge while listening to music in the dark can be extremely fun.
I learned to not rely too much on Siri.