• Question: If you had to explain space to a blind person or someone who didn't know about it, how would you describe it?

    Asked by smileysoph to Adam, Leila on 23 Mar 2012.
    • Photo: Leila Battison

      Leila Battison answered on 23 Mar 2012:

      Oh wow, wonderful question!

      I’d say: take complete darkness, and then put in points of light, just a few at first, randomly scattered above you. As you continue staring with your mind’s eye, more point appear, and you can start to see patterns – a person here, a scorpion there, and there’s a wonky ‘W’… Then you see more of those points start to make a streak across the sky , really dense, so the sky looks milky there, not black… Every once in a while a bright streak will pass across the sky, and you’ll see it through the corner of your eye…

      Once you can imagine what it looks like, I can tell you that each one of those points of light is a gigantic burning ball of gas, millions of miles across, and billions of miles away. There’s planets round those stars, and maybe alien life sitting on them, looking at the stars. That milky streak? That’s our galaxy, and we’re looking along the flat surface of spiralling arms, like a twirling octopus! And there are other galaxies out there, with billions more stars. And in between them is empty space. Cold, empty space that goes on forever.

      How’s that!?

    • Photo: Adam Stevens

      Adam Stevens answered on 23 Mar 2012:

      Wow, a really hard task. In fact, a blind person probably has a great idea of the deep blackness that is so alien to us. To make them realise that there’s these amazing bright points sitting in the middle of this darkness would be really hard.

      I kind of have in my mind some kind of sound installation to put this point across – a totally silent room, an anechoic chamber maybe, with some really finely grained sound generators putting out really intense (but nice!) ‘points’ of sound that the person can hear as they turn their head around. Space out quite widely, it might begin to give them some kind of idea of what space was like.

      I actually think it’d be kind of cruel to describe ‘visual’ imagery to them – you would have to talk in purer concepts like emptiness… Even colour wouldn’t necessarily make sense to them (obviously that depends on their type of blindness) so I think you’d have to be really imaginative how you did it.

      The image of space we have in our heads is /so/ visual that unfortunately I think it’s something a blind person wouldn’t be able to share 🙁 It would be like trying to describe an amazing symphony to a deaf person.