Concepts and senses

Concept ==> language + object ==> knowledge (make connections between concepts and senses)

There is a story which Dr David Bohm mentioned in different books1 he had written on the initial stages of learning of Helen Keller. Hellen Keller had a very creative teacher, Anna Sullivan. Anna as the teacher of Keller who was both blind and deaf was able to help her to communicate with others. She was successful in establishing the association of physical objects with its assign words by repeatedly gesturing letters(tactile sense of touch) onto Keller’s palm to form its correlation. Dr Bohm referred this process as….

‘teaching the child to form a concept’1.

Hellen Keller had described blind and deaf people as ‘captives of the dark and silence’ and she urged others to….

‘look beyond their bodies to the spirit within and stimulate them to activity by a vigorous use of their brain power and whatever faculties they have left.’2

Bohm had explained that abstraction thought in language terms, not merely add the use of signs and words to the rest of his/her activities. It also activates ‘setting in motion’, bringing deep changes by his/her attention in reality which we lived in. The ‘setting in motion’ means that with language, we find verbal and mental expressions for the feelings we feel, the senses of bodily experiences, reacting to the enviorment , 

​So once we start learning concepts about our environment through our senses, we weave ourselves into the environment and become eager to get to know more about the external world we live in. Its like a kind of empowerment which enable us to know our pets, the trees, the birds, the leaves, the flowers and etc. We are able to express our knowledge of them with language, whether with words, drawing, music, dance and etc.

​However, can we truly be able to relate to other peoples’ experiences with concepts ? For example, when our friend tries to describe to us their favourite coffee which we never had seen, smell or taste the drink. Can we still be able to understand their experiences? The common experience is to know that, having taste, sight and smell are the natural state of the bodily experience. And having a preference over types of coffee is simply likes or dislike. It is a value judgement.

Helen Keller used analogies and metaphors to try to provide a powerful concept or a painful image for us to visualise and be able to anchor ourselves into a mental space where we are allowed to meditate on her analogies and metaphors. Normally, we used phrases like ‘putting ourselves into another’s’ shoes’ or commonly we ’empathised’ by imagination. We can try to do very simple experiments like closing our eyes and try to walk around in the house in an attempt to understand a blind person’s experiences. However, language can provide us with strong imageries and our simple experiments at home just can’t give us much clues to the ‘captives of the dark and silence’. It evokes a space of darkness and quietness and people are being imprisoned or arrested inside this space mainly due to temporary state of experiment. 

We can all imagine being in a dark and isolated space, limited in movement and voice. And yet to urge others to look beyond the body to the spirit(Affirmation to humanity) within, is a calling out to other sense that are not imprisoned and are free to explore and move about. This could be referring to having an ‘insight’ moment which is a creative process of forming a new order to process information.  

1. On creativity, David Bohm, 1966, Routledge
​2. Speeches given by Helen Keller, while in Japan, on the following topics: Hiroshima (while in the city), social welfare workers, educators, women, and the deafblind.

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