That is a really counterintuitive result for me. I always assumed that one could construct a spatial model of something by touching it, without that directly being related to vision.
I think the reason Sinha's experiment had a negative result was, as other commenters have mentioned, that this ability is a learned behavior. Those who are blind from birth simply never developed the ability to form abstract representations from visual stimuli, therefore haptic information cannot be translated into these visual representations. The other commenters who are saying there is no pathway between the two modalities are wrong, and it's easy to set up an experiment to show it. Just blindfold someone and hand them an unfamiliar object, then, without showing it to them, have them draw it. It's clear that we can do this to some extent.
I'm also reminded of the way babies are born seeing upside down, and learn naturally to invert their vision. Apparently if one wears glasses that invert their vision, it eventually flips back. Is that a built-in transformation, or is it deduced from first principles, just to make a simpler mapping between seen data and other data, e.g., to more simply reconcile feeling your hand move one direction and watching it move in another? If from first principles, what else is it doing? And we know the brain adds stuff to the picture before it's presented to the conscious mind, too.
Do you have a source for that?
But the idea that people "see upside-down" is a common misconception. How the inputs map onto your brain spatially don't really matter. Well they do, but it doesn't matter if it's inverted or not because your brain learns (or likely is hardwired biologically) to map signals that come from the bottom to being located at "top" and signals that come from the top as "bottom".
Or, at least, that's my totally untrained opinion.
You can do that if you are able to see, close your eyes and touch it. What you'll be doing is seeing "in the mind's eye". Someone might have researched that, but you'll probably be exercising some cortex area related to vision.
Apparently, for people born blind, they can't make that connection since they don't have the experience to draw from.
I would think it's like singing two songs one octave apart and asking someone who was deaf which had a higher pitch. Even though he can hear, he wouldn't have this intuition developed yet.
From the article:
"The resolution of this problem is in some sense provided by the study of human subjects who gain vision after extended congenital blindness."
The solution is purely empirical, not philosophical.
Having a definitive answer to this question could be thought to potentially shed light on that.
Plato would probably argue that shape concepts are innately available to consciousness, and that when the blind person touches a sphere (for example), he connects that with his innate conception of a sphere. So Plato probably would have expected the suddenly non-blind person to be able to immediately connect his tactile experience of a sphere with his visual experience of a sphere.
British empiricist philosophers would probably have argued along the lines that there is no such thing as an internal conception of a sphere. So they would disagree with Plato.
Of course, the true answer is that neither Plato's team nor the empiricists were completely right. There are concepts, but they are formed based on sense data, not based on some kind of innate knowledge.
Philosophy is for questions that cannot be investigated empirically. And that includes those that cannot yet be investigated empirically. That’s definitely where I see the role of philosophy.
"What can be known?" "Do we have free will?" "Does God exist?"
(hint, any question that starts "Do we..." or references questions of existence is asking about the state of reality)
But what I meant was that almost any question can be considered philosophical under that definition. Until you actually test it scientifically at least. And if that's the case, then the meaning of "philosophical questions" becomes worthless. A word that can describe anything is useless. The value of a word is that it can be used to differentiate between things.
(I’m pretty sure I agree with you that something like morality can, at its core, not be empirically investigated, though empirical investigation can help create clarity in arguments about morality, though I’m not sure whether that’s an absolute truth that cannot ever be changed. Free will? Nature of knowledge? Those obviously are ripe for empirical investigation. I don’t see why we should never be able to answer those questions conclusively and empirically.)
The nature of knowledge is pretty vague too, but if you mean the concept of how we can ever know things, that also doesn't depend on how the universe physically is. In another universe with different laws of physics, it would still apply.
The same is true of mathematics, for example.
(Furthermore, before finding a way to test this empirically, it was solely a thought experiment, and therefore, even more directly in the realm of philosophy.)
A sufficiently educated and intelligent person with congenital blindness would be able to correctly differentiate the shapes. Say, for instance, had Locke been born blind and still educated as rigorously. Of the many deductions that could be performed, the motion of the head with eyes fixed looking around the border of an object in space approximates the motion of the hand tracing the same object. Many other deductions are possible. All you need are reasonable assumptions about the acclimatization process, e.g., the patient can have a suitable amount of time to adjust to being sighted but cannot touch anything during the process.
It is fascinating to think about the idea of disconnected senses, but as so commonly happens, fascination with an idea leads to sloppy thinking, especially among the educated.
The reason why the empirical studies of the patients from India are wrong, despite being interpreted as giving a concurring answer, is that the blind have traditionally been given feeble educations, lacking in the type of rigorous thinking necessary to solve the problem. Historically it was challenging to teach abstract reasoning to the blind, and for this reason many were not taught. See Herzog's documentary "Handicapped Future" for tragic examples in relatively wealthy 1960s West Germany. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handicapped_Future
The five patients in India who could not afford simple but life-altering surgery were sure to be poor in addition to being blind, and so surely must have received awful educations. Compounding this are their young ages.
A sufficiently motivated, newly-sighted Locke would've gotten the answer correct.
It's simply a problem of what gets mapped to what in the absence of mapping channels we take for granted.
Education is probably not a significant variable here.
Education and intelligence mean there's a significant variation in people's abilities to infer, to the point that particularly talented people get write-ups in 'Guinness Book of World Records.' and human-angle stories at the end of nightly news bulletins.
So the assumption that it's a binary answer to Molyneux's problem seems to be the first error. There would be certain individuals, who when adjusted to sight enough to work out the ratios of this color to that color could find enough data to make a choice that's better than a random guess.
However the fascination with this question isn't around those individuals who'd pass the test. It's fascination with the idea that most of us wouldn't, because as you outline the absence of input through the visual cortex mean the brain would not be able to make simple mappings sighted people feel are inherently 'natural'.
EDIT: My point is - mathematics is axiomatic in its very basis - the axioms have to be agreed upon by people who agree upon a conclusion derived from those axioms.
In actual fact, the newly sighted can't correctly associate the shapes right away. They need time to learn how to negotiate sight.
It would be like asking a person if they could understand text written in a foreign language they don't know anything about. It might be possible, but you would first have to train their brain extensively to understand the format and map the different symbols and words to actual concepts. Otherwise it's all gibberish, random noise.
"... the blind man, at first sight, would not be able with
certainty to say which was the globe, which the cube,
whilst he only saw them..."
Besides which, it would be a pretty lame philosophical question if the man couldn't even process the visual input to know that there are any shapes at all.
> the motion of the head with eyes fixed looking around the border of an object in space approximates the motion of the hand tracing the same object
His argument is that this kind of abstract reasoning would be mostly developed by education, so people with very little education would not be able to associate the shapes they see with those they touched.
"Land of Silence and Darkness" is the better source, though both may cover the subject. The two films are closely related. I think I saw them together, hence the confusion.
Now I have an additional question. Assume at one point you were able to see and touch things, then lost your sight, then regained it. I'd think that while blind, you'd still try to form images of things you touched, and then be able to recognize them after your sight was recovered.
If that's true, then the connection between the senses would not be fundamentally impossible, but rather a learned behavior.
But this was more interesting !
The only things the person would be able to gain from just touching the objects is that the sphere is "the same all over" and the cube is "not the same all over", to dumb it down considerably. If the newly unblind man looks at the objects in a similar way and considers symmetry, I think he would be able to tell that one is infinitely more symmetrical than the other and would be able to deduce that the shape that looks the same all over would be the sphere.
Does that make sense?
Skip to 7 minutes to see him paint a building he's never been to before, with 100% correct perspective.
It seems obvious to me that it takes some time for people to get used to using a new sense - particularly for higher-order abilities. Differentiating 'round' from 'hard edged' is probably a fairly simplistic function which your brain should be able to quickly figure out, but I don't see how it can just be instant.
If you asked a blind person to draw a sphere they would draw a circle, if you asked them to draw a cube they would draw a square.