The following discussion is what philosophers call a thought experiment.
This all came to me when I was lying in bed staring at a rotating ceiling fan. I decided to close my eyes and ponder, “Do I know of the fan’s movement?” The answer: surely I know of its movement, for I can hear it. Then I plugged my ears and asked the same question. This time however I realized that because I could not hear the fan anymore, I had trouble declaring with certainty that the fan was still moving; it may have stopped. It seems reasonable though to assume the fan is still the same since I just perceived it, but imagine I remained in the state of eyes closes and ears plugged for an extended period of time (two years perhaps), and the possibility arises that the fan is no longer moving, no longer in my room, or even that the fan has been remade into another object.
Apparently since the loss of my visual and auditory senses, the fan has lost all reality. Its only existence lies in my distant memory of its state when my senses perceived it. Thus everything but one perceives in the present moment exists only in the imagination. Now I wonder, “If I was born without auditory and visual senses, would the fan have existed at all in my life?”
Because you need an object to reason with, wouldn’t being born without the five senses eliminate your reasoning ability? If you’ve never sensed an object and could not receive knowledge about the concept of objects from another person, could you have knowledge that 2 objects plus 2 objects equals 4 objects? Is a person born without the five senses a human being? Does he have a mind? Perhaps the essence of the mind and the human being is sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. This conclusion would support the theory that sensual ability is the basis of ontology.
Ponder these questions and email me with clever ideas.
Response from Kristin
An interesting story of note, one you've probably already familiar with, is that of Kaspar Hauser. While not completely deprived of all senses (I cannot imagine how to lose complete sense of touch, because even paralysis doesn't make one completely devoid of feeling), after being connected with the world for the first time, he was able to integrate himself fairly quickly. Another interesting thing to note, though not much of a surprise, is that people who are cut off of certain senses lose their sense of time (the California captive Colleen Stan, and the circadian rhythm experiments spring to mind), often believed to be the 4th dimension, which poses an interesting question: If someone was completely devoid of any sense of time (meaning someone who had NEVER experienced any sense of time, not someone who at one point had it and then it became lost or altered), would their existence actually be taking place in another dimension? They clearly wouldn't be living in ours. The answer is hard to determine, but fun to think about. Another thing while I'm at it. When we are awake and alert, our brain temperature is between 98-99 degrees Fahrenheit. When it gets lower, our cognitive ability is lowered, and the lower is goes, the less conscious we are. I don't think there have been any experiments on measuring the brain temperatures of people who are blind/deaf/have insomnia, but it would be interesting to find out. So I'm going to argue that yes, a person devoid of their senses does have a mind, and of course they would be human. Senses are not used in determining Linnaean taxonomy. Furthermore, suggesting such a notion implies that people who are deaf, blind, etc., are less 'human' than the rest of us, which I'm sure you don't believe.