How does the sense of touch function in reading with the fingertips?
Professor: Erica St Germain
Student: Monica Beasley
Human perception is an amazing and complex phenomenon as it gives us true knowledge about our external world through our senses: smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight. Even though perception works the same for each individual, what each human being perceives can be very different. The human mind can only perceive phenomena that was already experienced from previous knowledge and it finds it hard to contemplate about new information. When that happens, the mind tries to understand that new perception with another phenomena that is recognizable to a similar event. Either way, each individual knowledge and previous experience triggers the way each one perceives what is real and true and vice-versa. What happens when one of the senses is missing: does the human body change the way everything is perceived? What if an individual in lacking the sense of sight: would he/she perceive the world around him/her the same as someone with all senses? Definitely not: a blind person’s sense of perception of the world around him is limited by the near vicinity of what he can touch while for a person who can see, they sky is the limit of their perceptions. This fact leads to the idea that a person who is deficient in one sense, must rely on the other senses to get a better perception of the world, becoming proficient on using the other senses. The energy saved by using only four senses instead of five, is being disbursed to the other senses that could eventually be performed very close to perfection. A perfect example is the ability of blind people to read: they have to rely on the other senses, especially on the sense of touch in order to perform the act of reading.
It is amazing how blind individuals have such a superior sense of touch and how they “see” sounds and “hear” colors. In a study done at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by professor Daniel Goldreich and his colleagues who tested 47 individuals who were not deficient in any of the five senses and 37 blind people who volunteered to be tested, was determined that blind volunteers had a sense of touch as good as a sighted individual who was 23 years younger (www.sfn.org). Having this information, we can better understand how a blind individual can perform reading in Braille with so much ease. In another study performed in 2000, the researchers came to the conclusion that sighted people have a less tactile sensitivity than blind individuals do, and people who can see are able to distinguish Braille patterns with a height of .2 mm, while blind individuals can identify Braille patterns of .3 mm in elevation (Grant, Thiagarajah and Sathian, p. 307). The Braille system was invented in the early eighteenth century, by a French man, named Louis Braille. But the idea that stays at the foundation of this system did not initially come from Louis Braille. While he was in school, Braille came across a military code named “night writing” (also known as sonography), invented by a French Army captain, Charles Barbier de la Serre, and which was intended to be used to help soldiers to communicate after dark. The code had a total of twelve dot positions, corresponding to sounds, that would make up a phonetic alphabet by combining the dots in certain patterns. The “night writing” system wasn’t very successful because there were too many dots and it was very difficult, if not impossible for the fingers to read all of the twelve dots at once.
Even though was an expert at reading Braille, Louis Braille was not born blind. He was a boy with normal vision, but at a very young age, he was playing with one of his father’s tools in his shop when he pierced his eyes that left him completely blind. Despite his handicap, he was quickly noticed by his teachers in school for his outstanding academic...