Investigating what felt shapes look like

I-Perception 7 (1) (2016)
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A recent empirical study claims to show that the answer to Molyneux’s question is negative, but, as John Schwenkler points out, its findings are inconclusive: Subjects tested in this study probably lacked the visual acuity required for a fair assessment of the question. Schwenkler is undeterred. He argues that the study could be improved by lowering the visual demands placed on subjects, a suggestion later endorsed and developed by Kevin Connolly. I suggest that Connolly and Schwenkler both underestimate the difficulties involved in rectifying the study they seek to fix. The problem is that the experimental paradigm under consideration fails to account for the role that rational inference plays in newly sighted subjects’ ability or inability to recognize spatial properties across modalities. Since answering Molyneux’s question requires establishing whether spatial properties can be recognized, across modalities, by newly sighted subjects without recourse to rational inference, this is a problem. Indeed, it is a problem that may be worsened by Schwenkler and Connolly’s suggestions regarding the lowering of visual demands on subjects in cross-modal matching tasks.

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Sam Clarke
University of Pennsylvania


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