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.