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Blind mathematicians

  1. Sep 30, 2013 #1
    Is it possible to be blind and still be a mathematician? I can't see how anyone can study calculus and other type of math in your head without ever being able to see what you're doing. I think most people have to see their work to understand what to do next, notice patterns ect.

    I heard that stephen hawking does all his physics equations in his head... I don't see how this is possible.
     
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  3. Sep 30, 2013 #2

    Office_Shredder

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    When I was an undergrad at Oxford there was a blind student majoring in math in my year, so it must be possible.
     
  4. Sep 30, 2013 #3

    D H

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    It would seem that imagining turning a sphere inside-out requires a lot of visual thinking. That may be how the sighted attack the problem, but one of the key players in solving this topological problem went blind at the age of 6.

    Here are some articles on Bernard Marin.
    http://www.ams.org/notices/200210/comm-morin.pdf
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Morin
    http://torus.math.uiuc.edu/jms/Papers/isama/color/opt2.htm

    Another famous blind mathematician is Larry Wos.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Wos
    http://www.mcs.anl.gov/~wos/uofc-bio.html

    Here's a profile of four STEM professionals who are blind.
    https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr23/fr06fal02.htm

    And some more:
    http://www.blindscience.org/blind-stem-professionals


    To sum things up, "Blind mathematicians? Certainly!"
    https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm12/bm1207/bm120702.htm
     
  5. Sep 30, 2013 #4

    AlephZero

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    FWIW, one of our engineers at work has a PhD in topology, and he usually shuts his eyes when thinking about hard problems, whether or not they involve topology.

    Maybe the OP never heard the saying "listening to the radio always beats watching TV, because the pictures are better."
     
  6. Oct 1, 2013 #5
    I believe it can even be an advantage. Once you go to higher dimensional objects it's impossible (for me at least) to visualize them. Yet I still try to do so and most of the time it's taking me more time to try that and fail than to write down rigorously what I know and work from there. *
    On the other hand, some of the intuition in maths comes from being able to sketch functions and schematics of spaces, so I don't know whether blind mathematicians can form such an intuition.

    When doing trigonometry it's different I believe because you need a very thorough description of the entire situation. And a sketch always makes things a lot easier.

    * I had the same problem with tensors, I looked at them as vectors, dual vectors and matrices. Yet this captures very little of the beauty of applying tensors in physics. Just yesterday it occurred to me that I should consider them tensors, nothing more nothing less.
     
  7. Oct 1, 2013 #6

    Borek

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    There are visual thinkers, there are non visual thinkers. You are probably doing a classical error of generalizing your own experience to everyone else. That's not how the psychology (when it does its best to be a serious science) works.
     
  8. Oct 1, 2013 #7

    arildno

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    Those blind mathematicians who excel would have excelled even more if they had been seeing.
     
  9. Oct 1, 2013 #8

    Borek

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    Speculation/personal opinion.
     
  10. Oct 1, 2013 #9

    arildno

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    Not really.
    Why do you think, for example, that LOGICAL intuition, as a feature of the brain is something independent of the sensory functionality of the same brain?
    That is the underlying premise of the idea that one could do away with all the senses and retain the same sense of logical intuition.

    THAT is speculative to a fault; regarding the "higher mental faculties" as surprising by-products of the "lower sensory capacities" is not.
     
  11. Oct 1, 2013 #10

    Borg

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    One of my instructors in college was blind. He wrote equations on the board, kept track of everything that he wrote and answered questions on various parts. We all kept expecting him to make mistakes but he never did. It was fascinating to watch.
     
  12. Oct 1, 2013 #11

    arildno

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    Exceptional! :smile:
    But it does not follow from this that it is equally exceptional to be a highly gifted mathematician when one compares the set of the seeing vs. the set of the blind.
     
  13. Oct 1, 2013 #12
    A interesting article which provides some insight on the topic.
    The World of Blind Mathematicians
    -American mathematical society(1246. NOTICES OF THE AMS. VOLUME 49, NUMBER 10)

    I would quote some excerpts but I just can't decide what to quote and what to leave out...just read the whole thing- its worth it.
     
  14. Oct 1, 2013 #13

    D H

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    I referenced that article in post #3, but I did so poorly.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2013
  15. Oct 1, 2013 #14
    Ooops:redface:
    Didn't read the link as I thought it was only about Marin...Its about blindness and math in general :approve:
    (post deleted)
     
  16. Oct 1, 2013 #15

    D H

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    No reason to be embarrassed. I'm the one who should be embarrassed as I should have given a better preface to that link.

    I restored your post because it gives a better description of the article.
     
  17. Oct 1, 2013 #16

    Curious3141

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    Euler went blind in one eye, then the other, but his mathematical output continued more or less unabated.

    Of course, that was long after Euler had already become very well established in his field (and he'd completed all the basic "studies").

    It's akin to Hawking being almost completely paralysed and still being able to do advanced physics and mathematics pretty much in his head.
     
  18. Oct 1, 2013 #17
    he said he'd have less distraction
     
  19. Oct 1, 2013 #18
    I may be wrong, but I recall a documentary from a few years back that Hawking was in. It stated that his grad students helped him out a fair bit (using the computers, doing math etc.).
     
  20. Oct 1, 2013 #19

    epenguin

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    I think Norbert Wiener went blind and did some work after that, had to have some help, it is in his autobiog.

    The unbelievable but true examples of chess masters beating everybody in simultaneous matches suggest everything could be achieved but not necessarily by many people.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2013
  21. Oct 1, 2013 #20
    One of my professors told me that some of the best geometers in the world are blind. He theorized that it is because they aren't "biased" towards seeing 3d, euclidean shapes, etc
     
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