[Art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research] 11th & 12th fingers: Hands, eyes and tentacles

Lisa Yayla Lisa.Yayla at statped.no
Tue Jan 12 09:49:42 UTC 2010

Dear Dr. Patterson,

Thank you so much for your answer. I have read your article The Human Touch at TPM and really enjoyed it.
Your discussion about some of the ancient Greek philosophers towards touch made me think that is what has 
built up the basis for galleries and museums to be so reticent in allowing touch tours. That is art galleries/museums
have become the Temples of Vision where touch is the cardinal sin. 

Your physical discussion of touch was also really good. I wonder could you say that touch is the only sense with muscles at its command? 

Will also be reading The Senses of Touch when it comes to the library.   

Sort of turning around how sighted people view blind I remember from an article (think RNIB) where a sighted mother tells about her blind son that when small he thought his mother had very long fingers because she could find things far away (e.g. a ball that had rolled away).

Your website is full of information. I will be passing the address onto others.  

Thank you very much.


-----Opprinnelig melding-----
Fra: art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research-bounces at nfbnet.org [mailto:art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research-bounces at nfbnet.org] På vegne av Paterson, Mark
Sendt: 11. januar 2010 15:48
Til: art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research at nfbnet.org
Emne: [Art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research] 11th & 12th fingers: Hands, eyes and tentacles


In addition to Robert Hopkins’ full and fascinating answer, the relationship between vision and touch has interested me for a while. You might want to look at my book published by Berg in 2007, The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects and Technologies, as chapter two sets up the phenomenological framework for considering this relationship, mostly based on Merleau-Ponty. So it might help contextualise your reading of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. Some people find reading Merleau-Ponty difficult, but actually I find his prose style to be both poetic and clear. You might not need to read any secondary literature on this, but if you do, the book might be useful.

As regards Rob’s last point, about sight evoking touch, Merleau-Ponty writes about this in terms of “the tactile within the visible”. This I write about in my book (also available on Google Books!) and in an easily-comprehensible ‘popular philosophy’ article for The Philosopher’s Monthly, available here: http://www.philosophypress.co.uk/?p=214.  Although there need not be any argument relating to evolutionary theory, the cross-modal associations between vision and touch have been the subject of much philosophical debate throughout history, including the infamous Molyneux Question (which Rob has written about, and which I have also written about in an article for the British Journal of Visual Impairment and another journal, The Senses and Society).

But your questions, Lisa, really prompted me to think in more animal-based terms about something I’m currently writing, Seeing with the Hands: A Philosophical History of Blindness, to be published by Reaktion next year. Because your analogy with the tentacles and the eyes is really pretty similar to René Descartes discussion in his 1637 book Optics (Dioptrique), where he hypothesises about an unnamed blind man walking with a cane, and makes an analogy between the cane and the eyes. Generalising about all ‘blind’ people he says “it is as if they see with their hands”. This is quite striking, and opens up questions about the relative hierarchies of the senses in western philosophy (Aristotle famously denigrated touch as the lowest and most bestial of the senses), the ways that certain senses have been considered as dealing with distance or proximity, and much else besides.

But another thing also immediately sprang into mind: a few years ago I read an article in The Guardian newspaper about the star-nosed mole, an amazing creature that has virtually no light perception, but has a nose with haptic (touch) elements so that it feels its way through earth and water with this, smelling/palpating the environment in search of food. It even creates a bubble in water in order to smell potential prey, and a few months ago the BBC series Life (narrated by David Attenborough) had a small sequence showing this remarkable animal in action. The newspaper article is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2001/may/31/neuroscience.onlinesupplement

Didn’t mean to do all the shameless self-promotion, honestly(!) but your questions and Rob’s responses resonated so well with what I’ve been working on. Good luck with your own research!



Dr. Mark Paterson
School of Geography
University of Exeter
+44 (0)1392 723912

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