Came upon the following story of a 68-year-old man who had his vision repaired after being nearly blind his whole life. Fortunately (?) he fell down some stairs and required major reconstructive surgery, during which they fixed his eyes as well.
(Story’s from here, where there’s a clearer version of the video too — I’m guessing YouTube is out of focus to get you in the mood for the story).
Being a philosopher, of course, I thought immediately of Molyneux’s Problem, posed back in the 17th century:
whether a man who has been born blind and who has learnt to distinguish and name a globe and a cube by touch, would be able to distinguish and name these objects simply by sight, once he had been enabled to see.
From M. Thomas’s account, it seems that Molyneux’s question should be answered in the negative. Once a blind person gains his or her sight, it seems that it still takes further learning/training to be able to associate the visual information with the tactile information.
Given my rationalist leanings (not in being committed to innate ideas, but in being inclined to think that reason plays a bigger role in knowledge than does experience), I’m mildly surprised by this. But it seems to be fairly well established empirically.
Here’s another case from a couple years ago that supports the claim that previously blind children couldn’t visually identify objects that they knew by touch.