[PL] Throwing Darts In The Dark

M. J. Hardman hardman at ufl.edu
Mon Feb 7 14:40:54 UTC 2000

Fascinating!  Maybe I should rethink something from my field work.  Forty
years ago I worked extensively with two blind people in the field.  One
was grown when an accident blinded him, so I thought nothing of it when
he talked of 'seeing'.  The other was blind from birth, yet the texts I
have from him often speak of 'seeing'.  He would recount events speaking
of 'seeing'.  At the time I took it for a metaphor learned from others'
language.  I never asked.  This posting makes one say hmmmmm.

MJ Hardman

>Dear Friends,
>This message is cross-posted from another list with the enthusiastic
>agreement of the author, who hopes that some of the experts here may have an
>expert opinion to offer.
>> X-Accept-Language: en
>> MIME-Version: 1.0
>> Date:         Sat, 5 Feb 2000 22:30:51 -0800
>> Reply-To: Philosophy and Literature <PHIL-LIT at LISTSERV.TAMU.EDU>
>> Sender: Philosophy and Literature <PHIL-LIT at LISTSERV.TAMU.EDU>
>> From: Mike Geary <mikeg at GALAXY-7.NET>
>> Organization: @Home Network
>> Subject:      [PL] Throwing Darts In The Dark
>> This post is a query as opposed to my usual, personally gratifying,
>> smart-ass comments.  Please bear with me if I seem clumsy in the
>> attempt.  I'm not accustomed to asking what other people think.
>> I have a niece who has been profoundly deaf since she was 6 months old
>> -- from meningitis.  Audiologists say that she cannot hear any sound at
>> all.  Not even a jet plane with her ear against the engine.  She
>> is now in her senior year of college.  She signs Amslam like a bat out
>> of hell, of course, and she reads lips and she can also vocalize a dozen
>> words or so -- like 'hello', 'thank you', 'goodbye'; but, of course, the
>> vocalizations are very poor approximations -- without feedback, speaking
>> is like throwing darts in the dark.
>> Three years ago, purely out of curiosity, I asked her if when she was
>> dreaming of non-signing
>> people, did they sign?  Expecting a yes answer, I was greatly surprised
>> when she said that she never
>> dreamed of anyone signing, that she "heard" in her dreams.  Not only did
>> she hear speech but she also heard music in her dreams.  Music?!!!  I
>> was so
>> astonished by this that none of the thousand questions I now want to ask
>> her came immediately to mind.
>> I know next to nothing about the science of hearing.  But I have a
>> layman's acquaintance with the physical-physiological requirements and
>> some idea of the psychological events that attend hearing.  There must
>> be physical sound waves impinging on the eardrum thereby exciting nerve
>> transmission to the brain neurons specific to "hearing" for "hearing" to
>> be possible.  But "hearing" as we think of it is not mere neuronal
>> excitation, it is the psychological experience of sound with the
>> concomitant decoding of sounds into signs that have meaning to us.  So
>> there must be the psychological event wherein one recognizes the
>> patterns of neuronal excitation as a specific sound and interprets that
>> specific sound according to learned sound-signs.  Is this good layman's
>> audiology and language theory or not?  I think it is and on that basis I
>> posit the following exception: "hearing" is not limited to sound waves
>> and auditory nerves.
>> When my niece signs and reads signs she does not "see" language, as I
>> assumed, she hears it the same as we "hear" what we read and write.  I
>> say "we," I don't know about you, but when I read, I hear an inner voice
>> saying words, and the same is true when I write.  I don't mouth the
>> words but they are sounded in my head in both contexts.  For some reason
>> I always assumed that she "saw" language.  I think Chomsky is more right
>> than he ever dreamed of, not only is the aptitude for the deep structure
>> of language hardwired, but that language is inherently an auditory
>> experience such that every experience of language is "heard" even if
>> there has never been an auditory model to base the hearing upon.  In
>> other words, my niece not only speaks/hears a unique language, the
>> language she speaks/hears is an ur-sound language. Is there such a
>> thing?  I would not have believed it before talking with my niece.  What
>> puzzles me is the music.  Does she hear Beethoven watching Nine Inch
>> Nails?  I would like to believe so.
>> Do the blind "see" what they feel?  Are "visual" images of the world in
>> their minds or geographies of touch?
>> I want to know.  I want to know if any deaf members of PHIL-LIT could
>> substantiate or contradict my hypothesis that we "hear" signs.  I want
>> to know if any blind members can give me any insight into what I call,
>> for lack of knowledge, transference of stimuli.
>> Mike Geary
>> uncomfortably serious
>> in Seattle
>John McCreery
>The Word Works, Ltd.
>Tel +81-45-314-9324
>Fax +81-45-316-4409
>email mccreery at gol.com
>"Making Symbols is Our Business"

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