Helen Keller's Senses Were Above Normal, But Below Acute
(PD) Helen Keller Smelling a Flower
Copyright ©2023 — June 08, 2023
Value of Helen Keller's Writings
Within Helen Keller's book The World I Live In, many of Helen's self-descriptions are highly intriguing to individuals of whom themselves have pre-birth and early infancy memories, and of whom are also deeply curious of how other people might interpret their own early life. It is likely common for most people to assume that their own personal experiences when young are similarly shared by other people, but as we get older, we begin discovering that our own personal experiences may have been dramatically different than what other people report for themselves.
Sometimes other people's descriptions of themselves are spartan or blank, sometimes the descriptions are third-person imaginations, and sometimes the descriptions may seem terribly vacant of self-awareness, so very vacant that it may cause a twinge of aversion or an emotioned tone resembling as if a fear due to the descriptions being so unexpectedly adverse to one's own personal self-experiences. Nevertheless, regardless of whether a self-description is imaginative or disconcerting, still the self-descriptions are valuable for an individual to catch a glimpse of how other people interpret their own lives.
False Histories of Helen Keller
As ought to be common knowledge, history gets rewritten a little at a time (and sometimes a lot overnight). If you live long enough, you will likely get to see newly printed history books that claim that your childhood era was fully different than what you had experienced firsthand. An example is from Word Meanings Change, Always #2: "A few decades ago, it became socially popular to name individuals with mental deficiencies as gifted. A high school in a city's poorest neighborhood had become used for young pregnant girls, drug addicts, and other children with behavioral problems, as well as for some gifted children. Today, some historians claim that the school was for children of high intelligence because the children were gifted." I told an older customer about the change of history, and the customer confirmed that the school had been for troubled kids when the customer was younger.
Today it is common to see websites speaking of beatniks from the 1950s, and yet some of the websites show photos of kids from the 70s standing behind cars made in the late 60s. Some people are still alive today who remember seeing the annual parades and get-togethers of veterans of the civil war, but now today Wikipedia and others are claiming that the old folks were all radical extremists. History is history and will never change, but history does get rewritten differently, usually a little at a time, and sometimes a lot all at once on Wikipedia.
As children, many of us were told by adults that Helen Keller had been born blind and deaf (darn adults, can't trust anything they say). Helen Keller's autobiography The Story of My Life writes of when she was about 19 months old:
"One brief spring, musical with the song of robin and mocking-bird, one summer rich in fruit and roses, one autumn of gold and crimson sped by and left their gifts at the feet of an eager, delighted child. Then, in the dreary month of February, came the illness which closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a new-born baby. They called it acute congestion of the stomach and brain. The doctor thought I could not live. Early one morning, however, the fever left me as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. There was great rejoicing in the family that morning, but no one, not even the doctor, knew that I should never see or hear again."
For those of us who lived most of our lives with the memorized 'ear to mouth' knowledge of Helen Keller having been born deaf and blind, the news of her illness (and the news of more fake history) was very disturbing because if she had once had sight and hearing, then everything she wrote had a different meaning: it was no longer the writings of someone who had never known sight and hearing, but rather it was the writings of someone who had to start life anew after losing sight and hearing, which fully changed how her words ought to be interpreted.
Meanwhile, today, a fresh new slant is currently drifting through the younger generation of cell phone addicts, that of an allegedly growing belief on TikTok that Helen Keller never existed (darn kids, can't trust anything they say).
The best choice available to us is to ignore everything everyone has ever said about Helen Keller, and to instead simply analyze what Helen wrote herself.
"BEFORE my teacher came to me, I did not know that I am. I lived in a world that was a no-world. I cannot hope to describe adequately that unconscious, yet conscious time of nothingness. I did not know that I knew aught, or that I lived or acted or desired. I had neither will nor intellect. I was carried along to objects and acts by a certain blind natural impetus. I had a mind which caused me to feel anger, satisfaction, desire. These two facts led those about me to suppose that I willed and thought. I can remember all this, not because I knew that it was so, but because I have tactual memory. It enables me to remember that I never contracted my forehead in the act of thinking. I never viewed anything beforehand or chose it. I also recall tactually the fact that never in a start of the body or a heart-beat did I feel that I loved or cared for anything. My inner life, then, was a blank without past, present, or future, without hope or anticipation, without wonder or joy or faith. ...Since I had no power of thought, I did not compare one mental state with another. So I was not conscious of any change or process going on in my brain when my teacher began to instruct me." (The World I Live In)
Helen's descriptions are very useful as an illustration of an individual who was not consciously mentally active in the womb, nor as an infant, nor as a toddler. Some known individuals were consciously mentally active prior to and during birth, of giving constant effort to observe their world through all available senses, and of continually reasoning all that they sensed. If a conscious child had lost their sight and hearing at 19 months, still their memories would be vivid. Too, even if a conscious child had a degree of mental damage as what Helen possibly described for herself, still the underlying structuring of mental cognition would very likely remain. Helen's statement "I had a mind which caused me to feel anger, satisfaction, desire" appears to confirm that her previous underlying structuring of mental cognition was indeed intact: if Helen's disease had severely damaged her mind to the core, then the structuring of experientially developed emotions would not have remained.
Therefore, Helen's words suggest that she may have indeed experienced what she wrote, an "unconscious, yet conscious time of nothingness", which suggests that she held no active self-aware self-referencing consciousness. Relative to what Helen wrote, she would not have possessed any unique talents prior to nor upon birth, and, today she would be evaluated as being very normal.
Nevertheless, though Helen was likely very normal, still she was able to self-acquire a useful sense of touch.
"Footsteps, I discover, vary tactually according to the age, the sex, and the manners of the walker. It is impossible to mistake a child's patter for the tread of a grown person." (The World I Live In)
Through use of the eyes and ears, people can very easily discern age, gender, and manners of walking. Without sight and hearing, few people are able to discern much of anything. Beyond the use of normal tactile surface sensations as Helen described, at a distance acutely sensate individuals are also able to feel (and smell) a person's age, gender, manners of walking, mood, and health as the individuals walk past a window several feet away. Acutely sensate individuals are able to feel a family member's location in one's home, and to sometimes use the sense of location as a prank to surprise the family member who is walking towards the sensate person. Even 5th grade science teaches physics; it is a physics impossibility for anything in the universe to not 'feel' things at distances; even cell phones 'sense' microwaves radiated from towers miles away. Most animals are quite good at feeling from distances, but only a small percentage of humans are able to consciously feel what other people radiate. To deny the physics of distant sense, is to fully deny all laws of Nature, and to also deny all fields of science. Normal people contradict themselves by denying distant sense while also believing that science is true truth.
Though Helen's sense of touch was far superior over normal, still Helen did not speak of feeling from distances, and thus her sense of touch was not near that of acutely sensate individuals'.
"The city is interesting; but the tactual silence of the country is always most welcome after the din of town and the irritating concussions of the train. How noiseless and undisturbing are the demolition, the repairs and the alterations, of nature! With no sound of hammer or saw or stone severed from stone, but a music of rustles and ripe thumps on the grass come the fluttering leaves and mellow fruits which the wind tumbles all day from the branches." (The World I Live In)
The early 1900s cities were obviously much quieter than today's. Today, an acutely sensate individual can move over thirty-five miles from a city, and still feel the ground's rumbling from the city's roar. It would be interesting to hear what Helen might say about the cities of today, and whether or not she could feel the distant cities' madness of activity.
Helen's descriptions of olfaction were also far superior over normal, but still not approaching the acuity of acutely sensate individuals'.
Frequently, Helen's choices of English words when describing her senses, appeared to suggest that she may not have been sufficiently skilled with the oral language to best describe details, but still there were no verbs nor analogies that would signify that she was conscious of much beyond what she said.
The current high value of Helen's words is that they show it to be possible that normal people could surely acquire heightened sensory perceptions if the people were to self-exert the self-effort to self-learn sensory perceptions.
As discussed in Sensory Perceptions Exhibit Intelligence, 10,000 hours of practice is a good general idea of how much effort is required to achieve a level of skill in any endeavor. The only thing holding most people back, is the lack of self-effort.
The photo above is of Helen placing a flower near to her nose. The photo's pose may have been intentional, but at present there is no known reference by Helen that she could acutely smell at distances.
From the 2009 Olfactory Perception The Sense of Smell article:
"The cactus flower radiates slowly,
the radiance higher than browns,
lower than yellows,
heavier than reds,
there exists a balancing of weights,
that describe the vibrance,
that is violet."
The description is of a tiny segment within the scent of aromas, and given color names with the aim of presenting analogies that normal people ought to comprehend. The prose was written from an experience of sitting about three feet from a small cactus on rural land while absorbing the cactus' nature through five senses. When a similar description of olfaction is given alongside of intricate details, then the description will illustrate the person's manner of conscious mental processing. At present, all known descriptions of olfaction from Helen suggest that her manner of mental processing was superior relative to most people's, but still not beyond what is possible within normalcy.