There’s apparently a man in Ankara that can paint shapes, color, and perspective without ever having seen them – he was born without eyes, according to the spot on him on the Discovery Channel (always a great source for in-depth discussion *snark*).
The cogsci people are all excited, because they naturally thought that eyes were necessary for visual information to be processed. He uses his hands to gain sensory information, but it’s pretty unclear how so much visual data can be transmitted by the hands alone. I conducted a series of studies on tactile information for speech processing several years ago, and found surprising results, too (e.g. that novice hearing subjects could recover a large amount of articulation information by using only their hands), but I am doubtful that tactile information is enough to give him this much conceptual information on perspective and color.
Within the Jungian conceptualization of intuition, there is an interesting way to think about this. One of Jung’s ways for gaining information is intuition, which is the semi-mystic way people perceive possibilities and underlying meanings. Introverted Intuition, for Jung, is the inward-turning kind of intution. It looks inside, finding the possibilities and underlying meanings.
For Jung and many subsequent thinkers, introverted intuition is often at odds with sensory perception directed at the outer world. In particular, it is conceived of as the di-pole opposite of extraverted sensation, which perceives the outer world “as it is.” Introverted Intution rejects the outer world and its perceptual information by turning inward, to the Self, and its infinite possibilities. To someone focussed on introverted intuition, the world of sensation is just so much “noise” – the “many colored, seething populace” of Kierkegaard.
Introverted intuitives tend to believe that the inward-looking eye can perceive everything that is important. This is a theme that has regularly recurred in religious thought – consider Gandhi’s elaborate and repeated discussions of this, or the numerous writings in Buddhist perspectives. As the fox in the Little Prince explains, “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
People of other persuasions (especially those whose preferences are for Sensation) tend to pass off this kind of talk as silly mysticism. Yet here we have a man who can perceive the outerworld, including clouds, trees, and blue skies, by turning inward. Forced by his blindness, he necessarily followed an inward-turning line of perception, and arrived at a view of the outside world. This is how the introverted intuitive views their relation to the world, and, for them, it isn’t at all surprising that someone can do this.