Consider the Molyneux's problem

"If a man born blind can feel the differences between shapes such as spheres and cubes, could he similarly distinguish those objects by sight if given the ability to see?" (Wikipedia)

There is recent evidence$^{1}$ that the answer is likely negative. In their experiment, Held et al. used "three-dimensional forms drawn from a children’s shape set" (Legos, actually). I was thinking would the results be the same, if the stimuli were reconstructions of snakes or other reptiles? Humans are argued to have evolved fear modules$^{2}$ in their brain for such creatures. Or, if the stimuli were directly related to humans, e.g. body parts? Could this kind of experiment test whether a child's mind is tabula rasa?


$^{1}$ Richard Held, Yuri Ostrovsky, Beatrice deGelder, Tapan Gandhi, Suma Ganesh, Umang Mathur, Pawan Sinha, The newly sighted fail to match seen with felt, Nature Neuroscience, vol. 14, pp. 551–553, 2011.

$^{2}$ Arne Öhman, Susan Mineka, The Malicious Serpent: Snakes as a Prototypical Stimulus for an Evolved Module of Fear, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Z6:6, pp. 5-9, 2003.


1 Answer 1


A child's mind is certainly not tabula rasa; language acquisition patterns in children suggest that they have an inborn module for it — domain-specific and, while flexible, clearly incompletely flexible.

The children would probably have the same troubles with constructions of spiders and snakes; the modules that we are said to have for those species concern our prepared learning to fear these organisms, not our identification of them.

Even if the modules did concern identification rather than fear, the fact that the inborn modules do not constitute inborn abilities or tendencies. Experiences must still be had with the snakes, spiders, etc for fear to be acquired.

  • $\begingroup$ I see. Thank you for your answer. Could you please add some references to support your text? $\endgroup$
    – anonymous
    Aug 4, 2013 at 16:19

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