In my monograph for Edinburgh University Press, Seeing With the Hands: Blindness, Vision & Touch after Descartes (2016), I examine historical and philosophical responses to the so-called ‘Molyneux Problem’ first published in Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), and taken up by Berkeley in 1709, where blindness is treated as an epistemological problematic. In a period where cataract operations were becoming increasingly performed and discussed, the book follows the development of philosophical approaches to blindness, vision and touch firstly in England, then in France by Voltaire, Buffon, and Diderot. I argue that questions raised at this historical juncture about cross-modal perception have clear implications for contemporary conceptions of blindness and technologies of sensory substitution, including the innovative work of Paul Bach-y-Rita on Tactile-Visual Sensory Substitution (TVSS) systems. The book addresses the place of blindness in philosophy and early psychology as a counterpoint to the supposed centrality of vision.
The interest in blindness follows in the wake of my doctoral thesis and has developed into other publications, including journal articles about blindness in British Journal of Visual Impairment (2006) and The Senses and Society (2006). I have published articles on literary and autobiographical treatments of blindness, firstly in a special issue on blindness of Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature (2013) and, secondly, in an article for Emotion, Space and Society (2014).
The history of the idea of ‘sensory substitution’ continues to fascinate me. I have written about the centrality of subjects with disabilities in the development of technologies of sensory substitution, and for early ideas of brain plasticity particularly by the neuroscientist Paul Bach-Y-Rita in my chapter ‘Philosophies of sensory substitution: The case of the seeing tongue’ in the Oxford UP collection Perception and its Modalities (2014, edited by Matthen, Stokes, Biggs), plus my chapter ‘Molyneux, neuroplasticity, and technologies of sensory substitution’ for the Routledge collection The Senses and the History of Philosophy (Glenney & De Silva, Eds 2019), entry for the Encyclopedia of Early Modern Philosophy and the Sciences on ‘The Molyneux Problem’ (Jalobeanu & Wolfe, Eds 2020), and an article ‘Hearing Gloves and Seeing Tongues? Disability, Sensory Substitution and the Origins of the Neuroplastic Subject‘ in Body and Society (2021)