Cosmos Café [5/28] - A Meditation on Blindness

Recorded 28 May 2019

Micheal and Doug (with cameo appearance from John) experiment with the experience of blindness. It may be strange watching this Cosmos Café . . . two blindfolded individuals talking about the experiences and related issues around blindness. Doug recommends listening to this Café over watching it. Also, the “sight” of others blindfolded might trigger a few discomforting thoughts (fear of the unknown; memories of experiences of being blindfolded/seeing this in movies/news/other media), so take this into account.

The intention of this Cafe was to bring a certain awareness to the participants (and perhaps the listener). Doug and Michael did experience heightened awareness. . . a deepened focus, some piqued auditory reception, a slowing of time. We hope you enjoy this sensory deprivation experiment.

Note: the email conversation referenced in the recording is placed below . . . for reference! See posts 4-32.


FYI. I’m still in exile, so I won’t be able to attend. Have fun and play nice.

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I might show up for the first hour but I am under some pressure to get some projects completed, so I may not join you for the mysterious hour. I can always watch the replay.

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Instead of watching the recording of the BYOC session this week, I listened to the MP3. I was in a very distracting environment and the visual element would have been too much stimuli. Not only was it a different experience, it raised a couple of issues that I would like to share with the others.

There is no question in my mind that the differences between the two modes of presentation (video/audio) are significant, but what struck me was how left out a “mere hearer” is.

There were several instances where something was shown to the camera, a book, a sketch or drawing, and other than a can-you-see-this, there was no indication at all what it might be. Even though those present might be able to see what was being shown to the camera, a hearer is left out completely. Even a brief description of what is being shown and why it is perhaps relevant for the discussion would be helpful. Stating specifically the title of a book and its author would also be helpful for the non-visual participant. Remarks about what one just happens to see in the background of one of the participants can be confusing or misleading even.

We want these recordings to be a valuable and useful, and we enjoy the injection of a variety of methods, but what would we do if a blind person were participating? We want the recordings to be a valuable and useful archive, but not everyone who accesses them (or who could access them) may be sighted.

None of this ever even occurred to me till I clicked the MP3 player control instead of the video recorder control. It made quite an impact on me nevertheless. The ecology of online interactions is perhaps a bit vaster and complex that initially meets the eye (pun intended). I wanted to mention it so that it is more consciousnesses than my own, and I seriously think it’s a matter worthy of our attention.


Dear Ed. MP3 is not the medium I was communicating through. My communications are intended for video. That is why I have had such a hard time using this technology when ten tiny heads are plastered on a screen. This is an overload. Our drawings are intended to be seen and described by the maker as she tries to make sense in a public space of interior senses. A communique from the field. A sense of the movement, and the rhythm happens, as attention becomes a meta-attention. My main interest is in synesthesia, overlap in sensory systems. If all participants were in the same room, at the same time, this would be easy, but we are not. And that is why I asked the participants in this thread to be in a quiet space with good internet connections. Gathering attention is very hard, sustaining a group attention is very, very hard, unless there is a strong intention to do so. And Clean Language is not a conversation to be overheard. It is more a ritual than a conversation. However, I do try to move between conversation and the deeper psychic space in a careful balance between group and individual.

I appreciate that MP3 is great for those on the road who want to drive and listen at the same time. This can save time for when they are on the road and want to listen to a novel. But ultimately a novel is to be read, rather than recited. I am all for mixed media that translates adequately. Much value in that. But Clean Language is about sound/sense/ movement, gesture, and the interplay of sense making and meaning making as the between perceptual spaces and conceptual spaces merge. An open eyed trance. I work with constraints of the medium. I think it is also important that we chunk down and chunk slow to catch the rhythm, than try to crack the code. Sharing a picture, sketch, is very different from trying describe the picture in words. It is a creative tension between representational systems.

Having said that I could try to mindful of those who might be in their cars driving and tying to listen but it could really be even more confusing for those who want to create a sense of intimacy.


Interesting topic! I definitely"see" what you mean about MP3 not conveying everything and it’s probably a good idea to have an orientation reminder for each video that there might be sound only “participants” at later date, especially if referring to drawings, photos, objects

I usually only look at the video briefly to see the faces of the people (if any I don’t already know) then listen to the conversation on MP3, knowing whose voice belongs to whom and I supply the faces, etc via imagination. THis allows me to listen and move around (mindfully) if I need to, or listen more deeply to qualities that get lost (for me) in videos. I’ve spent so many decades on the phone doing various kinds of work and play, that I can hear better and more deeply with sound only. But I am not typical in that regard, I don’t think.
Another great thing about MP3 is it doesn’t require very high internet speeds/capacities, thus limited viewers to those who are “well equipped”! :slight_smile:

Another angle: Personally, I wish I could get a notification every time a new vid/MP3 conversation (on any topic) is posted. I 'd go there and decide if I wanted to listen. As it is, I miss many, many things because I don’t know they are available. I just discovered Caroline’s blog, eg, which I would have wanted to read long ago, but had no idea about!


Thank you, John, and I think I’m aware of your intent, which is noble, to be sure, but not everyone else in the world is as sense-endowed as you.

I don’t believe for a moment that words could replace the impact of the drawing, but to at least know, or have a feel for what the participants are talking about isn’t really all that much to ask, is it? MP3s are not solely for the listener/drivers of this world. For some, it’s the access.

This is my problem with the technology: it favors some and completely disregards others. It can, but need not, be so exclusive. That’s all.


It seems like it might be beneficial to differentiate from the particular topic of that Cafe–which involves Clean Language rituals where it is important to be consciously connected through a visual aspect–and the overall pattern of desiring to be mindful to describe visual elements during Cafes so that the audio can be accessible to those who may not be able to see, and more broadly, those who are listening “podcast style” to Cafes.

Ed, on this topic of accessibility, could you say more about “the technology” in this context? And who you perceive being favored, and who disregarded, by it? Or please direct me to such feedback if you’ve already made it elsewhere. I’d like to hear more.


I agree, Ed, and I take you point. Movies were supposed to kill theater and TV was to destroy Radio and in someways they did. Each medium changes our communications through each technological invention. The world of the weekend workshop, where I received my higher education, has been taken over by the zoom conference call, I would definitely be including the sense of touch, which is also absent on line. So, each medium scrambles our sense making and changes our capacity for meaning making. Adequate translation is needed as we try to transform our complex sensory systems through the use of techno gadgets. Kinesthetic learners are sometimes left out, too. I like to use my hands when I talk. I don’t know how to talk without movement. Blind people also use hands when they speak.


This is a huge topic, and it is one that most of us “unaffected” tend to underestimate.

A few years ago, I took a degree in educational technology, and fortunately we were “forced” to do a module on accessibility. It made me think about digital technology in a whole new light. There is much that can be done technologically to support access for persons with all kinds of physical hindrances, and not every “problem” can be “solved” technologically, but what became clear for me was that we often don’t give enough thought “going in” to whom may be the recipients of our offerings. For example, many sight-impaired surfers have text-to-speech machines “read” webpages to them. If we have, say, transcripts of our recordings, these folks could “listen”, but without appropriate pointers to what’s happening speech and visual-wise, it can get confusing. (I was reminded of this when reading the G. Bateson chapters on how much mammals (at least) communicate about relations through body-language, gesture and such. And that got me thinking.)

To be perfectly honest, I have zero idea about what actually needs to be done specifically, but I do think it would be worth our while to at least keep in the back of our minds that we may have visitors to this site who are not as blessed as some of us are.


I can’t agree with you more. And I am also aware that if we chunk down and chunk slow and desire to be aware of those visitors we may make better rapport. I ask us when we communicate at our best how do we consider our audience? I know Carolyn and others are focused on this. I am focused on the quality of attention and maintaining rapport with those who show up in a live call and who may on occasion want to explore the field, articulate symbolic landscapes, create mutual learning experiments. So, I try to connect to the audience through the guests who show up on the Conference calls. We each have a style and preferences. Oscillating between different ways of knowing. That is, as we have all discovered, a challenge.


Thanks for this. It’s precisely what I was thinking (in general at least). These days many broadcasts have signers for the hearing-impaired, and there is closed-captioning for sight-impaired in other broadcasts. All of that, just like text-to-speech (to be effective at any rate), can be costly (in every sense of the word) to implement, and that naturally exceeds the capabilities of this site at present. Still, I think might be helpful to stimulate to our collective awareness that there might be small things we can do along the way that could be a significant enhancement of what we’re doing here.


Thank you for bringing up this aspect of the topic, Ed. Accessibility to information has gone down for many people with disability, although in principle the technology should be enabling. It is the way the technology is used that is often disabling. Providing some kind of a description to accompany images is one way to help - even if a person cannot appreciate all the nuances of the image, some descriptive elements help make a person not feel completely excluded. There are also ways of building web pages that make these more accessible - I suspect Infinite Conversations overall is not very accessible. More could be done…


Yes, important topic. Not only accessibility (financial and physical barriers), but it’s important to cultivate upfront awareness that “disabled” persons have access to portions of the experiencial/insight spectrum that non-disabled persons don’t! So it’s a two way spectrum, so to speak. I realized that when working with Deaf community as beginning interpreter, a whole piece of the sky, you might say, had been closed to me before I learned some sign language well enough to experience it from inside as a truly different mode than any “tongue”, and more…When you subtract a sense mode, you gain things as well as lose something. We so often get stuck in either/or mode!


Absolutely. I have worked with PWA’s and persons with dementia and aphasia. I have used clean language with some folks to help them articulate their symptoms symbolically. This can help bring relief, giving words to those unarticulated frustrations and aches and pains. I have been profoundly changed by my work with the elderly and the disabled… that’s where I get my desire to chunk down and chunk slow from. What’s the rush? We move too fast…


Yes! We are moving way too fast! I forget which wise person said that the more dire our circumstance, the slower we need to go… I personally sometimes have to slow down recordings, even youtube videos, in order to fully take them in… or ask people in person to please slow down as they speak…


I believe this is a really important discussion. My personal wishlist for the Café—along with any other reading groups and meetings, etc.—would be that every event is made available in video and audio format, along with a transcript, and that they are archived in a way that makes them discoverable later on (for example, by including keywords and notes of what was discussed, which could be searched).

Some of the architecture for this is already being developed with the Cosmos Cloud and Cosmos.Earth initiatives. Some of it can be done with tools already available (e.g. tags) on the forum

Our websites in general could use an accessibility audit (@kayla given some attention to this, but it is a big job that will require a lot more attention).

I personally orient better to audio than to video, but I appreciate that some ‘information’ simply cannot be adequately transmitted or exchanged outside of the context of full televisual presence and participation.

Since these are public events, which are not meant to be insular or only of personal relevance, but also have some ripple (or larger) effects on a wider consciousness and culture, I do believe we should be mindful a diverse range of abilities in our audience…while being mindful, as well, that we are not merely (or primarily) performing for an external audience, but are fully engaging with whomever is present in real time and (virtual) space, making the event happen.

That said, it seems a small thing we can do is to be mindful of our asynchronous audience when introducing visual elements. We could also be more conscientous when referencing names, books, or websites that non-intensive forum participants (or even the regulars!) may not pick up on. These latter, of course, could make their way into the episode notes.


Here,Here that would be helpful for a very poor speller,being more a sight reader rather a phonetic one,though there has an upside-compensation as referenced in this thread,of developing a heightened sensitivity to non-verbal clues.A excellent thread on growing community interaction & engagement!


Yes, Marco, and this may indicate that there may be multiple frames of reference ( problems, solutions at the level of the problem, visions and desires) and these differences and directions registered in different sensoriums, happen in and through time. This is to co-create operational chains from the aperspectival as we are simultaneously in more than one place/time. And through the personality of those in the actualizing event in front of a hidden camera that flattens faces and distorts affects, speaking into a microphone that distorts sounds and trying to figure out what a tone of voice and breath and a moist eye and a giggle or a growl mean, trying to stay in rapport while registering double and triple messages and in relationship to a picture or a sketch that is just happening a second ago…the product of that messy and near chaotic event is very different…as the anticipation of a first kiss is different from the actual one…

And in your leisure you can stop, play back, return again and re- listen if you wish in video or MP3 on different devices … options are open…while in a crowded cafe or traffic jam…and the product which goes into the archive is a record of an event that is over…and how we register these past moving forward into anticipated futures that are becoming more subtle rather than frozen into the abstract models of marketed derivatives is what my challenge was becoming. And who are we sharing attention with? The audience and the participants are no longer becoming what they were becoming and how can we who are becoming in the moment through the techno spectacle, meta- communicate well enough, to shape a cultural discourse event worth saving? We are the audience we wish to serve.

As I wish to integrate onto-epistemological vibrations in motion, triangulating from the margins, rather than freeze frame an event and try to standardize, before it occurs , and I hope those who are in the anterior future of the event can reflect upon their own reflections and feedback/feedforward differences that make a difference. This is to accept and appreciate the ephemera. We are engaging in the ancient practice of cleansing the portals of our perceptions. How do we frame your fearful symmetry? What are we seeing, hearing, feeling, as we move in between frames and take turns talking? Some one has to show up to make this happen. It is hard work, sharing quality attention, in public. We arrive at an open/closure if we are to become a coherent we space and we can only share differences that make a difference in a coherent we space. And to do this not all of our options can remain open. We need to close loops that have remained open too long…or we perish.

As we awaken the necessity to make a leap into a new cosmology, we will need to take a few motifs from the 3d Newtonian grid, we were once enmeshed in…and what are you going to bring with you as you get ready for that transition, as the Modern is collapsing…may be far from obvious…and so I hope we can have compassion for those in front…behind… and beyond the cameras.


This is the most important skill we have to develop if we are avoid even greater disaster. It is never what we say, but what we don’t say. The audience goes to a play to enjoy the subtext. We need to become adept at registering the effects/affects of the deeper structure rather than overwhelmed and swept away by surfaces. Chunk down and chunk slow and then novelty rather than standardized tests and shallow innovations, might emerge…who knows what might emerge from the womb of time…if we give our attention to that heart-breaking, gut-wrenching task?