A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a story about a young man named Daniel Kish who spent the majority of his life without eyes. Daniel was born with rare but aggressive form of retinal cancer, which required his eyes to be removed at 13 months of age. Being blind did not alter Daniel’s “standard of living” as he could ride a bike, climb trees, hike and do just about everything but drive. How did he manage such a feat? By clicking his mouth like a bat. Each click produced a sonar landscape of obstacles, hazards, and places most blind people only dream of experiencing. Experts refer to this technique as “Human Echolocation.” Daniel does not have eyes, but he says he can see.
Listening to this story changed my perspective on vision and what it means to see. Do we see only with our eyes? Are the eyes necessary for experiencing the world? According to Daniel, the answer is no.
I’ve always understood that all available senses were involved in any experience, but the importance of sound with vision is a new phenomenon for me. I’ve discovered that sounds, when placed strategically, not only enhance a story, but actually make us see. A knock on a door, the rustle of leaves, the creaking of a door, or any number of these seemingly subtle sounds allows us to create the pictures of a story on our own terms.
In many ways, hearing a story, as opposed to watching it, makes the story personal. It is no longer a story that someone else wants us to experience, it’s a story that can be interpreted in our own way, even as art. When we hear or read stories, the pictures and images we produce are colored with a lifetime of our own experiences, and in a way the story becomes our own.
Sound truly does make us see.