Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Space perception of the ¨once blind¨ person

The Graeae´s eye. El ojo de las brujas grises. Pintura digital de Myriam B. Mahiques

I´ve begun reading a very interesting book, ¨The Visual Dialogue. An Introduction to the Appreciation of Art¨, by Nathan Knobler. In page 14, he quotes professor J. Z. Young, an English physiologist who experimented with individuals born blind who, in their later years, were enabled to see.
I´d like to reproduce some paragraphs, as we, architects, tend to think that spatial perception is the same for everybody. At least we recognize cultural differences in our way to comprehend the space (let´s say the architectural space) but this is related to knowledge and brain training. Let´s read:

¨The once-blind person, now physiologically normal, does not ¨see¨ the world immediately.
The patient on opening his eyes for the first time gets little or no enjoyment; indeed, he finds the experience painful. He reports only a spinning by sight, to recognize what they are, or to name them. He has no conception of a space with objects in it, although he knows all about objects and their names by touch. ¨Of course,¨ you will say, ¨he must take a little time to learn to recognize them by sight.¨Not a little time, but a very, very long time, in fact, years. His brain has not been trained in the rules of seeing. We are not conscious that there are any such rules; we think that we see, as we say, ¨naturally.¨ But we have in fact learned a whole set of rules during childhood. (*)
Young goes on to say that the once-blind man can learn to ¨see¨ only by  training his brain. By expending a considerable amount of effort, he can gradually understand the visual experiences of color, form, space, and textures.
These experiments suggest that the sensations we receive have no meaning for us until we know how to order them into a coherent perception. Sensation is only one part of perception. Also included in the construction of a percept is the past experience of the observer and his ability to combine sensations into a meaningful form. To perceive something requires that the observer make a selection of the numerous sensations which are significant for the construction of a particular experience and disregard those which are irrelevant. As Young points out, this requires training. The untrained observer cannot make sense out of what he sees before him.¨

(*) J. Z. Young. Doubt and Certainty in Science. Oxford University Press, London, 1951, p. 62

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