I was blind, but now I see…
In 1825, the blind Frenchman Louis Braille developed a way for the sightless to read text. Improving on a flawed system of “night writing” originally commissioned for Napoleon’s army, he created a set of letters composed of six dots, which can be raised or not to denote the different letters of the alphabet. Twelve years later, in America, an Atlas was published for the blind, a collection of 28 state maps composed of raised lines and dots. As Frank Jacobs observes at Strange Maps:
The link between blindness and cartography makes more sense than one might think: spatial awareness – knowing where things are without necessarily seeing them – is a trait overdeveloped in blind people, making them especially sensitive to the geo-distributive  aspect of maps. As was apparent when blind children were taught to read these raised-relief maps in 1830s Boston:
“They soon understood that sheets of stiff pasteboard, marked by certain crooked lines, represented the boundaries of countries; rough raised dots represented mountains; pin heads sticking out here and there, showed the locations of towns; or, on a smaller scale, the boundaries of their own town, the location of the meeting-house, of their own and of the neighboring houses, and the like; and they were delighted and eager to go on with tireless curiosity. And they did go on until they matured in years, and became themselves teachers, first in our school, afterwards in a private school opened by themselves in their own town.”
The tactile maps shown here are taken from the Atlas of the United States Printed for the Use of the Blind, published in 1837. This precious, curious edition had a minuscule print run: no more than 50 copies were produced, for the New England Institute for the Education of the Blind . Only five copies now survive…
As we feel our way, we might send nihilist birthday greetings to Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche; he was born on this date in 1844. A philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic, and classical philologist, Nietzsche is probably best remembered for his concepts of the “death of God”, the Übermensch, the eternal recurrence, the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy, and the will to power… which, among them, have had an extraordinary impact on thinkers as diverse as Martin Heidegger and Ayn Rand on the one hand, and Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida on the other.
When someone hides something behind a bush and looks for it again in the same place and finds it there as well, there is not much to praise in such seeking and finding. Yet this is how matters stand regarding seeking and finding “truth” within the realm of reason. If I make up the definition of a mammal, and then, after inspecting a camel, declare “look, a mammal’ I have indeed brought a truth to light in this way, but it is a truth of limited value.
- Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn (On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense), 1873