And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.…
While I was living in Geneva I became acquainted with Dr. Dufour of Lausanne, just after his successful operation on a patient blind from birth. The case is by no means unprecedented, but it is not common, and when it occurs, the study of the processes by which one thus put in possession of a new sense comes to the intelligent use of it, and to the power of apprehending anything in the mind by means of it, is a study of the profoundest interest both to the physician and to the mental philosopher. There are very apt to he circumstances unfavourable to such study. The form of blindness from birth which is susceptible of cure is that of "congenital cataract;" and this is often so complicated with other defects of the organ of vision that even after it is removed the patient cannot see distinctly; or there is a deficiency of the intellectual faculties; or the original blindness was not complete, so that the ease does not furnish an example of the actual beginning of vision; or the operation is effected at an age at which the child cannot give a full and intelligent account of his sensations. The case which Dr. Dufour treated was that of a man of twenty, both whose eyes had been covered from birth by an opaque chalky deposit which barely permitted him to perceive a difference between light and darkness; only when a strong colour was made to shine obliquely into the pupil he had been able to recognize the difference between red, yellow, and blue. But he had never seen the form of anything, a surface, or an outline. After the operation the patient was kept for a considerable time in a dark room with the eyes bandaged; and at last when the healing was sufficiently advanced, he was brought to the light. He groped, and sought for leading, and behaved so like a blind man that the doctor began to doubt whether there was not a deeper seated blindness that would defeat the effect of his operation. The patient was seated with his back to the window, and the doctor, in front, moved his hand to and fro over his black coat. "Do you see anything?" he asked. "Yes," said the patient; "I see something light." (He already knew the difference between light and darkness). "What is it?" "It's — it's — it's —" This is all that could be got from him. The doctor tried once more, putting his hand before the patient, sometimes at rest, sometimes in motion. "Do you see anything move?" "Move?" The doctor kept trying, and the patient gazed intently; but the most of an answer that could be got from the young man was that he saw "something white." The next day the patient was seated again as before, and the doctor showed him a watch. He said at once, I see something bright. Is it round or square. No answer. "Do you know what square means?" He made the shape with his hands, and likewise a circle. But all the time, looking eagerly at the watch, he was totally unable to tell whether it was round or square. The next day the same question was put, with the same failure to answer. At length the doctor let him touch the watch. Instantly he spoke up: "It's round! It's a watch!" Two strips of paper were shown him. He could not tell by the eye which was the longer, or whether they were of equal length, until he was allowed to touch them. He was shown two pieces of paper, one square, the other round. "Do you see any difference between these papers?" "Yes." "What is the difference?" No answer. "Well, one of them is round and the other square; which is the square?" He hesitated awhile, and being told to touch them, he laid his hand on the square piece, and, feeling the corner of it, exclaimed, "This is the square!" Then he handled the round piece attentively, and from that time forth had no difficulty in distinguishing round objects by the eye. The results of a long series of careful experiments with this patient is thus summed up: His visual sensations were clear and definite enough, but he had no power of interpreting them. Each sensation required a special intellectual act of comparing the impression on the eye with the impression on the touch. The image of external objects impressed on his retina was nothing to him but an assemblage of outlines and colours, in which he perceived no order, and from which he derived no notion, whether of form, or of distance, or of motion. This result corresponds to the result reached in the half-dozen like cases that have been studied and recorded, beginning with Cheselden's famous case in 1728. The incident of restoration of sight to the blind has been used in modern fiction by Wilkie Collins in "Poor Miss Finch," and by Bulwer in "The Pilgrims of the Rhine," and used in a way utterly irreconcilable with fact or possibility, Shakespeare, as might be expected, deals more shrewdly with the subject ("King Henry VI," part 2). Now, it is a very notable fact, that in the gospel accounts of the healing of the blind, written in an age when "it had not been heard since the world began that anyone had opened the eyes of a man born blind," there is not a syllable that is inconsistent with the facts of psycho-physiology as they have been demonstrated so many centuries later. The most ingenious tale writers of our own day fall inadvertently into such inconsistencies. These plain narrators of eighteen hundred years ago avoid them. How? They must have been going by facts that they had seen. It was in my thought to speak of the paedagogic interest of the case. Dr. Dufour was so unprepared for the incapacity of perception in his patient, that he was ready to believe his operation a failure, because of the slenderness of the first results. Is there any commoner source of discouragement to teachers than their own mistake in taking too much for granted? Is it easy to underestimate the acquired knowledge of a little child? A careful statistical study of "The Contents of a Child's Mind," lately made by the examination of candidates for the primary schools of Boston, yielded results of a sort most instructive to the teachers of primary classes, as showing how often those notions which we should assume as a matter of course as being part of the mental furniture of the least and dullest, are lacking in the minds even of bright children.
(L. W. Bacon, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.