Spatial versus visual

Yesterday I attended the impressive doctoral defense of a brilliant Ph.D. student in our department. Nektarios has been blind since birth, yet he is able to quickly understand and reason about many advanced spatial concepts with which other students struggle.

A bit later in the day I showed him a research prototype, and it was fascinating to see him assimilate the idea, ask a few questions, and then rapidly build a model in his head, which then led to a wonderfully interesting and free ranging discussion.

It could be that many concepts we generally categorize as “visual” are actually more properly called “spatial”. Nektarios clearly does not have a visual model of anything, yet his reasoning process involves a highly sophisticated and flexible form of spatial reasoning.

Perhaps we should be doing more to bring in other senses such as touch, hearing and proprioception when we teach spatial reasoning to our students, much as Montessori schools now do for some younger children.

2 thoughts on “Spatial versus visual”

  1. Your ARCADE work is so visual. Are there any parts of it that would be useful to someone who can’t see?

    Have you thought about using the space between people to arrange sensory feedback other than the visual? I’m thinking, for example, that a person might be wearing a glove of some sort with haptic feedback that allows them to feel virtual objects in space that are put there by another person, similarly to how you’re allowing people to see virtual objects in space put there by another person.

  2. Nektarios attended the first public talk I gave showing ARCADE, back in December at the Museum of Mathematics. He often refers to it in our conversations.

    It would be very interesting indeed to involve other senses in ARCADE. We are gearing up to do some experiments in that direction this summer, using both touch and spatial head-tracked audio.

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