What is Real? Discussions with Ranga.

Thu, May 24, 2007 at 10:43 PM

[T-i-C] same way you know Keller did have a space representation! 🙂

Apart from the TiCs, we have to go at these carefully or else we would end up throwing superficial and naive remarks at each other.

Helen Keller’s life has to be looked at carefully before we can make a statement like the one you made below:

This is well-articulated by Helen Keller, who didn’t have a reality until she discovered language.

I’m not sure how you could surmise the above that she did not have a “reality” before she acquired language. I’m very interested in looking at the actual words she wrote.

If you look at some important facts about her life. I had read some accounts of hers and also saw the wonderful movie Black in Hindi sometime ago, and what I gathered was that she could communicate even before she had language. But, to look at the details, I have dug up Wikepedia. Here are a few points:

1. She was not born blind and deaf; it was not until nineteen months of age that she came down with an illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain,” which could have possibly been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind. By age seven, she had invented over sixty different signs that she could use to communicate with her family.

–Notice above that she could communicate already with signs. Do you doubt a person not to have “reality” when she could communicate? Then we need to reformulate our idea of reality. And, this again brings us back to the point about different realities for different people.

2. Sullivan (her teacher) got permission from Keller’s father to isolate the girl from the rest of the family in a little house in their garden. Her first task was to instill discipline in the spoiled girl. Helen’s big breakthrough in communication came one day when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on her palm, while running cool water over her palm from a pump, symbolized the idea of “water;” she then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world (including her prized doll).

–Notice again that the spatial perception (tactile) is very much there, and has allowed her to sense her surroundings. She has to walk around, eat, drink etc.

3. In 1890, ten-year-old Helen Keller was introduced to the story of Ragnhild KÃ¥ta – a deaf blind Norwegian girl who had learned to speak. Ragnhild KÃ¥ta’s success inspired Helen ? she wanted to learn to speak as well.

–Now she wants to speak. She could communicate that she wanted to speak without speaking. Doesn’t she have a reality yet?

4. Anne was able to teach Helen to speak using the Tadoma method (touching the lips and throat of others as they speak) combined with “fingerspelling” alphabetical characters on the palm of Helen’s hand. Later, Keller would also learn to read English, French, German, Greek, and Latin in Braille.

–Interestingly she picked up language by tactile perception alone.

All the above, and also having seen many deaf/blind/mute people be as we are (in the speech and hearing institute in mysore), I sincerely feel that there is life and a fulfilled, conscious life in most of these people. Also, this shows that there is indeed much reality – whatever that we take it to be – in these people.

I doubt whether “lesser” creatures have cognitive representations. Dogs respond to sound, but do they HEAR it? I mean, do they have a sound representation? Could it be like blind-sight? Sort of deaf-sound?

Now, coming to the lesser creatures there is huge amount of literature in neuroscience on complex spatial and temporal processing in small to big creatures. If you are interested I can send you some articles. My friends in the Hertie Institute here do PhD on Neuroscience of spatial perception in rats to primates. I visit the animals frequently as my German lessons are done there. Rats are taught very complex tasks, and they learn them with good feedback and reward. There is no doubt to complex processing whether spatial, temporal, affective or cognitive. Rats are routinely taught to maneuver through a maze. They do not just “react” as you say to things but they can carry out complex cognitive processing and make decisions. Now don’t they have a reality? If they don’t then I’m not sure what my reality is.

Whether conscious awareness of a percept amounts to reality is then the point, considering that we do unconsciously process many things in our daily life too.

I think what you might mean by saying that they may just respond to sound, but may not hear is implying that they are not consciously aware of their decisions. Now, this is a question that has received much attention recently. Although, conscious awareness of perceptions and decisions can be at best made by verbal reports, they can be tested by motor output too. There is again much evidence that lower animals could also be consciously aware. Let me know if you want a review paper on this.

(I’m attaching here a review article (not a neuroscientific study) of Consciousness. This paper has some references to animal literature – if you are interested. If you want literature on spatiotemporal processing in animals, let me know).

About writing a book, I’m not sure if I have anything new to say yet – whether there is anything new to say at all is another thing 🙂 Anyway, I have to work on book on BCI with Niels – we may go with Elsevier or Springer. But this is too early to say for now.


Fri, May 25, 2007 at 7:46 AM

Hi again,

[T-i-C] same way you know Keller did have a space representation! 🙂

Apart from the TiCs, we have to go at these carefully or else we would end up throwing superficial and naive remarks at each other.

I thought your implying that planets and molecules may have a space was a bit of TiC. You weren’t serious, were you??

Any ways, Keller’s book can be downloaded from project Gutenberg at: http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext00/kelle10.txt

– cheers,
– Manoj

Fri, May 25, 2007 at 10:39 AM

I thought your implying that planets and molecules may have a space was a bit of TiC. You weren’t serious, were you??

Hi Manoj:

I made that remark partly in jest and partly with a purpose. There are certain circles (who study the emergence of life) question if planets and other celestial bodies we routinely consider not alive to be really so. They have good reasons to ask too.



One thought on “What is Real? Discussions with Ranga.”

Comments are closed.