The Elements of Evolution (51-2-1) Blindness

 Eyesight to the Blind

In 1688 Irish philosopher William Molyneux, whose wife was blind, posed a question to English philosopher and physician John Locke: could someone born blind, used to categorizing shapes by feel, recognize those shapes if sight were restored? Locke answered “no,” figuring that the connection between the senses was learned. Dozens of philosophers since have considered the problem.

Experiments to solve Molyneux’s problem began in the early 18th century. For 2 centuries studies done were inadequate to resolve the issue. Finally, in 2011 the answer came – Locke was right: making sense of sensation is acquired, but the means to do so is inborn.

Cross-modal learning is possible despite years of deprivation. ~ American psychologist Richard Held et al

Molyneux’s problem illustrates a baseline between precocious knowledge and learning: whereas specifics such as shape must be learned, the ability to categorize in certain ways is innate. The mind is preformatted with methodology, whereupon experience may impress via learning.