Essay: Architecture of the Mind Sight

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Architecture of the Mind

Sight is one of our most important senses in our engagement with the external world. We rely on sight to get by in the world. Sight is so essential that a deluded or ignorant person is said to be "blind." It is indisputable that sight is an important tool, even the dominant one, for obtaining knowledge about our world. Two recent readings regarding the limitations of sight architecture provide valuable insights into the architecture of the mind and the role of sight in that architecture. Pallasmaa points out the role of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste in the construction of the mind's experience and knowledge. (PALLASMAA 283). Sacks uses the impairment of blindness to reveal the heretofore unrecognized dimensions and functions of sight by discussing cases in which people were able to see but became blinded later in life. (Sacks, 1). Thesis: Our knowledge of the world is structured according to the architecture of the mind. That is, we construct a model of the world from our experience of it. As Pallasmaa and Sacks demonstrate, sight is a useful, though limited source of knowledge about the world, neither fundamental nor essential.


To understand the architecture of the mind, one must first understand what is meant by the word "architecture." Pallasmaa describes architecture as being "fundamentally confronted with questions of human existence in space and time, it expresses and relates man's being in the world. It is our "primary instrument in relating us with space and time, and giving those dimensions a human measure." (Pallasmaa, 284). The "architecture of the mind" is the internal, or mental equivalent, to Pallasmaa's conception of architecture. The mind builds a model of the world through the knowledge available to it at any given time. When a person makes use of visual imagery, the architecture of the mind, like external architecture, entails the "mental construction of spatial representations and artifacts out of the flow of human experience." (Pallasmaa, 284). The removal of one source of knowledge, visual perception and even visual imagery, does not remove one's ability to build these models. Rather, the mind makes do with the sources which remain, even learning to tap these sources in new ways. Sacks uses the impairment of blindness to reveal the heretofore unrecognized dimensions of sight. (Sacks 1). Sacks discusses cases in which people were able to see but became blinded later in life. (Sacks 2). Some of these cases were caused by "deep blindness," where a person loses her sense of vision. In such cases, a person may even forget her family's faces. Sometimes, these new sight-impaired models produce a new way of experiencing the world which is even fuller and richer, an experience described by Hull as "whole-body seeing." (Sacks 2). Sacks demonstrated that blind people, in the absence of sight, pay make use of faculties such as sound and smell to detect unexplored aspects of their environment. (Sacks 12). In his study, each person developed alternative means to "achieve a rich and full realization of their own individual worlds." (Sacks 12).

Although sight is not essential to the architecture of the mind, it is highly useful and highly-utilized. For the typical mind of today, sight occupies the dominant role in the architecture of the mind. We have a strong tendency to visualize the objects of our knowledge which make up our mental models of the world. We tend to place these objects into space in order to memorize, imagine, and organize them, as did the blind man who lost the faculty of visual perception but retained and utilized the faculty of visual imagery. (Sacks 6). As Pallasmaa relates, Aristotle considered sight the most noble of the five senses 'because it approximates the intellect most closely by virtue of the relative immateriality of its knowing.'" (Pallasmaa, 283). Aristotle meant that the eye was capable of obtaining knowledge without having to make material contact with the object of knowledge. Sight is our preferred source for acquiring objective knowledge of the world. Scents have to be smelled by our nose and some scents smell different to each person, a product of subjectivity. Sounds have to be perceived by our own ears and this subjectivity may make the experience of the sound different to different people, such as tone-deaf people. Tastes must also be perceived by our own tongues and may be cause different experiences depending on the development of certain taste-buds and acculturation to certain tastes (acquired tastes). Touch must be perceived by our own skin and may affect us differently as a result, as demonstrated by people who are hyper-sensitive to cold or heat or people who develop a certain "feel" for musical instruments. Unlike the four subjective senses, sight produces knowledge of an object that can be confirmed inter-subjectively, with different people agreeing on certain properties of the object. That is, we can gain knowledge of things that are not merely subjective. Through sight, we can detect and agree on the color, dimensions, and position of an object in space without needing to be in sensate contact with the object. Such agreement creates what many consider "objective" knowledge, though the notion of "objective" knowledge has been disputed. Because sight produces knowledge of the world which is inter-subjective, it is essential in a social environment where people must agree on standards regarding objects. To engage with the material world around us, such as with finding food for instance, we must orient ourselves spatially in the world. In other words, we must know our position as an object in space relative to other objects as well as the position of those objects to other objects.

Sight, however, is not exhaustive in itself as a source of objective knowledge. Pallasmaa states that we need to value our other senses as much as we rely on sight. Pallasmaa points out the role of sound, touch, smell, and taste in the construction of the mind's experience and knowledge. Sound can supplement and enhance objective knowledge gained through sight. As Pallasmaa notes, "sight isolates, whereas sound incorporates; vision is directional, whereas sound is omni-directional." (Pallasmaa, 285). Sound brings a sense of connection to the object of knowledge that sight cannot. In a cathedral, for example, "our look wanders lonesomely in the dark depths of a cathedral, but the sound of the organ makes us immediately experience our affinity with the space." (Palasmaa, 289). Sound resonates in our mind through our deeper connection to it. This explains why sound memories such as melodies come to our mind spontaneously, whereas sight memories have to be willfully recalled in order to be remembered. Pallasma gets to the objective-subjective dimension of this: "The sense of sight implies exteriority, but sound creates an experience of interiority." (Palasmaa, 287). Sight is useful for reading the dimensions and color of an object, but cannot read the texture, weight, density, or temperature of the object. Only touch can ascertain those properties. We know with certainty that something is hot because it makes our skin feel a certain way. (Sacks, 7). As Palassmaa notes, "The eye is the organ of distance and separation, whereas touch is the sense of nearness, intimacy, and affection." Smell reinforces objective knowledge and increases the level of detail with which we remember that knowledge. Familiar scents trigger memories and feelings that we no longer actively "remember." When we smell a certain type of flower, for example, memories of springtime and of particular moments or images of a particular spring might arise. Thus, the spontaneity of spell is very useful for recalling objective knowledge which cannot be recalled through the more volitional faculty of sight. (Sacks, 9). Unlike the other four senses, we can actively perceive and control our experience of the world through sight. We can adjust our focus on… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Architecture of the Mind Sight.  (2012, April 12).  Retrieved June 27, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Architecture of the Mind Sight."  12 April 2012.  Web.  27 June 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Architecture of the Mind Sight."  April 12, 2012.  Accessed June 27, 2019.