‘Getting it’ – Helen Keller and my aims

The story of Helen Keller is well known, although perhaps less so these days.  However the critical juncture in her life was obviously her introduction to language.

I wrote a book called “A journey to the end of philosophy” which also pertains to the discovery of a certain discourse, and it also does so by showing rather than telling, however it never exactly reveals what this discovery is.  The reason for this is that I don’t want to cause undue damage to the social order without knowing what would replace it, or if anything would.

Ideally in the case of normal people I would like them to know that something is there but not be experiencing it directly.  That way philosophers could discuss the situation and work out a consensus on the way forward.  The only problem is that without experiencing it directly they won’t know the significance of what’s there.

Anyway they don’t care in the slightest about my discovery, and if I was to show them it collapse’s the social environment so that I can’t talk about it with them either.

In the case of people who are what is caused aspirers or autistic I think there is real value in introducing them to aspects of the environment that neurotypical people take for granted.  The question is whether it is possible to do that without throwing them fully into the environment and the problems that entails.

In the case of Helen Keller, she lost her sight and hearing at an early age so it was hard for her to learn sign language by touch and at first she didn’t know what they were trying to teach her so she wen though a period where she knew people were doing what we would call language but she didn’t know what that was:

I do not remember when I first realized that I was different from other people; but I knew it before my teacher came to me. I had noticed that my mother and my friends did not use signs as I did when they wanted anything done, but talked with their mouths. Sometimes I stood between two persons who were conversing and touched their lips. I could not understand, and was vexed. I moved my lips and gesticulated frantically without result. This made me so angry at times that I kicked and screamed until I was exhausted.


My earliest distinct recollection of my father is making my way through great drifts of newspapers to his side and finding him alone, holding a sheet of paper before his face. I was greatly puzzled to know what he was doing. I imitated this action, even wearing his spectacles, thinking they might help solve the mystery. But I did not find out the secret for several years. Then I learned what those papers were, and that my father edited one of them.


She described it thus:

Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding-line, and had no way of knowing how near the harbour was. “Light! give me light!” was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.

This is how she described the moment where she ‘got it’ and started understanding what language was:

Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten–a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.


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