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

Simon Hayhoe simon_hayhoe at yahoo.co.uk
Thu Jan 14 12:24:54 UTC 2010

Hi Lisa,
Fascinating as always!!
I hate to make this debate even more Anglocentric (or in Robert and my case, East-Midlands-Mainline-ocentric) but you should look at several pieces of research in particular on this issue: 1) Lots of the stuff done by Charles Spence suggests that what you perceive through one sense has a direct affect on the way you perceive with the others - this would suggest that, although there are discreet senses, there is a great deal more inter-play between these senses in the brain than was previously thought possible 2) the classic epistemological studies of Molyneux's question to Locke, most particularly by Berkley Gregory and Sacks. These are of course the studies of early / born totally blind individuals who have their congenital cataracts removed. The finding is that there is an inter-play between touch and sight - Robert's overlapping of the senses - although this has to be learned, and is not innate - the people observed in all of these cases could not
 recognise by sight what they had previously touched, in Gregory's case with dangerous consequences.
On a point made by Robert, I would like to respectfully disagree. I believe the study of the evolution of the senses, and the evolutionary use of the senses is not a cul-de-sac. Personally, I am very much on the culture side of explaining how we learn to develop and use our senses - nurture rather than nature. However, I feel that the evolutionists have taught us a great deal in relation to the nature and structure of perceptions, and the nature of brain's processing of such data. I would argue myself that Locke's publication of Molyneux's question in An Essay on Human Understanding - although this is in favour of the nurture argument - Descartes, Diderot, Berkley - even Newton on the structure of optics - and all of the psychology that has followed this case have all been interested in the idea of nature - or God, as many believed - versus nurture. This has had profound influences on our understanding of the brain and the development of modern science,
 and thus cannot be dismissed so easily.
There is another aspect to this that has not been mentioned, however, that I believe has a major affect on the interplay between touch and sight - and the other senses - come to that, and even has parallels with an email debate I took part in with the Society for Disability Studies this morning, and that is the role of culture on the senses, and the use of the senses. Following the theme of arguing for our own research here, there is a great deal of evidence if you compare the cultural history to people's current experience - I personally use a comparison of de Saussure's diachronic and synchronic approach - there is significant evidence that people's cultural experience is related to the way that they use and understand touch and sight (see my research on British cultural history of blindness versus today's cultural experience of students who have attended schools for the blind). There is another aspect of this research too.
Another thing that has not been discussed at the moment is the early / late blind cultural experience - something for greater cultural reasons has not been the focus of philosophical discussions on this issue for several hundred years, eventhough it is the most important aspect of understanding blindness and the lived experience of the blind person.. Early blind people will develop their own culture of perception. For me this observation, even though it was not by any means the main focus of their research, was the most interesting aspect of the studies of Gregory and Sacks. As I have found with late blind people who find it very difficult - to the point where it threatens their mental health -  to adapt to their blindness, and the fact that they have to rely on touch where they previously only thought of sight - see particularly John Hull's experience of the problems he had coming to terms with total blindness and his transition to a different
 way of thinking about his perceptions - Gregory and Sacks found that the early blind people given sight did not think of it as a blessing. Indeed they became depressed and gravely ill as a result, and often sat in darkened rooms in order to recreate their experiences of blindness. This perhaps shows, more strongly than anything else, that there is a great deal more to perception than simply touch, sight, smell, hearing, taste and pro-prioception.
Best wishes and cheers, Lisa, and thankyou for giving me a reason to put off marking some very boring year 9 exam papers this morning in a very chilly classroom in Leicester.

--- On Tue, 12/1/10, Lisa Yayla <Lisa.Yayla at statped.no> wrote:

From: Lisa Yayla <Lisa.Yayla at statped.no>
Subject: Re: [Art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research] 11th & 12th fingers: Hands, eyes and tentacles
To: "'Art Beyond Sight Theory and Research'" <art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research at nfbnet.org>
Date: Tuesday, 12 January, 2010, 9:49

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

Art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research mailing list
Art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research at nfbnet.org
To unsubscribe, change your list options or get your account info for Art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research:

-Scanned by Exchange Hosted Services- 
Art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research mailing list
Art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research at nfbnet.org
To unsubscribe, change your list options or get your account info for Art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research:


More information about the Art_Beyond_Sight_Theory_and_Research mailing list