[FOM] blind mathematicians and logicians: findings
catarina dutilh
cdutilhnovaes at yahoo.com
Mon May 25 11:08:11 EDT 2009
Many thanks to those who have replied to my query concerning
blind logicians and mathematicians. Most of you have replied to me directly, so
I thought it would be useful to post the data I have assembled to the whole
list.
The most often mentioned blind mathematicians were
Pontryagin and Morin. Also worth mentioning are the cases of Euler (blind for
the last twenty years of his life) and Nemeth, who developed a Braille notation
for mathematics. There is a very interesting notice of the AMS on blind
mathematicians:
http://www.ams.org/notices/200210/comm-morin.pdf
The only person who could qualify as a ‘logician’ among
those mentioned to me seems to be Larry Wos, given his remarkable
accomplishments in automated theorem proving. This in itself is interesting for
my purposes: while there are quite a few remarkable blind mathematicians, often
with impressive spatial (as opposed to merely visual) intuitions, blind
logicians seem to be almost non-existent. Whether the virtual non-existence of
blind logicians is a purely social fact or whether it reflects something deeper
about the cognitive abilities relevant for work in logic is of course a
pressing question. Interestingly, blind mathematicians are often topologists
and geometers, and, as Morin pointed out in the notice mentioned above, a blind
person can in a sense have a privileged spatial perception of an object in that
it includes a perception of its inner part, besides a perception of its
surface.
Some other interesting facts that were mentioned:
- Laurence Goldstein (http://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/philosophy/staff/goldstein.html)
developed some tools to teach logic to blind people.
- The distinction between visualizers and verbalizers, which
has been the object of significant work in experimental psychology, may also be
relevant for the issue of the visual aspects and implications of mathematical
practice. Here is a reference:
http://www.springerlink.com/content/p2418lut77789258/
- Giuliano Artico is a mathematician who has explored the
visual aspects of mathematical notation and practice:
http://www.giulianoartico.it/access/
http://www.handimatica.it/Handi1998/Convegni98/matematica/C98artico.htm
Finally, let me just add something that I did not mention in
my original post: it seems to me that it is important to distinguish between mathematicians
who became blind after receiving mathematical training and those who were either
born blind or who became blind at an early age. For my purposes, more important
than being blind from birth or not (and thus having hador not having had some exposure to visual
sensory perception) is the effect of being visual or non-visual upon being
trained as a mathematician or logician.
Best regards, and thanks again for the cooperation,
Catarina Dutilh Novaes
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