What the Blind May Dream

Hidden Models and the Practical Consequences of Mimetic Desire

What do blind people dream about?

The answer depends on when the person lost their sight. If someone went blind at age 8, they are capable of dreaming using all of the sensory inputs that their brain received before they went blind.

People blind from birth are different. They don’t dream in images—their brain has no images to work with. Instead, they dream in sensations and sounds. The sensations of falling into a manhole or being hit by an unseen car are common. Their dreams draw on the fears and experiences that they have when they’re awake.

Yet blind people are wanting. They want in their dreams. They want to see the color orange, the smile on their spouse’s face, and maybe even the evocative imagery of a Paolo Sorrentino film.

And where did they get those desires? Other people.

A man who can see wants to see the color of the autumn leaves, the mischievous grin on his wife’s face before she walks into the bedroom, and the play of light and darkness on the villas of Rome in Sorrentino's film TheGreat Beauty.

Like all desires, those desires are contagious and easily passed onto the blind. A blind man would not want to see the color of autumn leaves or the chiaroscuro of Rome had he not learned about the desirability of these things from people who can see them.

The important and often overlooked point is this: We’re no different.

When it comes to our desires, we, too, are blind. We look to other people who we think can “see” better than we can—our models of desire—in order to learn what is worth looking at and pursuing.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be exploring the role of these hidden models of desire that go unnoticed, unacknowledged, unaccounted for. And I’ll offer practical suggestions to live in this kind of world.

Movements of desire are powerful forces that determine the future. Economists measure them, politicians poll them, businesses feed them. History is the story of human desire.  Yet its origin and evolution are mysterious—what René Girard called the Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World in his 1978 magnum opus.

This newsletter is a field guide to those things. It’s a practical way of living in a world filled with mimetic desire.

None of the insights that you’ll find here are found in the book Wanting. The book is meant to be merely an introduction. Here, you will find real-time commentaries and applications to the things happening in our world from a mimetic perspective, but also from the perspective of classical philosophy, theology, literature, and more—from someone who spent over ten years moving from blind wanting to more intentional wanting.

Because desire is social by nature, each of us has a responsibility to shape the desires of others. Each encounter we have with another person enables them—and us—to want more, to want less, or to want differently.

I know the responsibility that I have. Yours is the same. Together, we have to learn to desire the things that will lead to more fulfilling lives—and to help others do the same. You won’t find any moral relativism (“to each his own”) here. Some things are worth wanting; others aren’t.

What we want will be the ultimate measure of our lives.

David Foster Wallace once mused that to live in a world in which the Internet encompasses more and more of our lives, with increasingly sophisticated porn (virtual reality) and other terrifying assaults on our freedom, “We're gonna’ have to develop some real machinery inside our guts.”

That machinery will help us respond in a healthy way to the powerful images and words we are bombarded with in the 24-hour news cycle; the polarized political environment; and other mimetic accelerants—like apps that encourage frictionless decision-making, social movements driven by anger, and the pressures of conformity that discourage thinking for oneself. 

This newsletter is about developing that machinery in our guts.