From the monthly archives:

August 2009

Textural and Temporal

by Matt Blair on August 30, 2009

in Books,Perception,Senses

The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faría is the shortest book I’ve read in quite a while.

This concept book consists of a series of paired black pages: text describing a color in both braille and white letters on the left page, and an image in raised black ink on the right. (You can see an example in this review.)

Ostensibly a book for children, it is a book meant to be touched and felt. Sighted readers can tilt the book back and forth in the light to perceive the image — but that’s cheating isn’t it?

Thomas, our guide through this seemingly monochromatic world, explains each color to us:

“Thomas says that blue is the color of the sky when kites are flying and the sun is beating hot on his head.”

Touching the adjacent page with eyes closed, I scanned from upper left to upper right, out of instinct.  There didn’t seem to be anything at all.

Descending the left side of the page, my fingertips caught a bare thread near the bottom. With no other distractions, they followed that thin line up and to the right, until it exploded into the shape and form of a kite.

Our eyes can take in a page at a glance — not every detail, of course, but the general structure of it.  With touch alone, our sensory connection to the page shrinks to narrow points — a fingertip or two. The experience of the page happens not in an instant, but through time.

Looking at a page, we think: there’s a kite on the right.

Touching the page, there’s nothing at first, then a spare line, and then a burst of complexity.

It’s not just that we’re using a different sense: the entire sequence of the experience has changed.


What is your primary sense?  How do your perceptions change if you mask or ignore that particular sense and focus on your other senses?

Does your primary sense allow you to perceive something in an instant, or does the experience unfold through time? Do some senses take longer than others?

With practice, could your perception with that particular sense get faster? Would you want it to?

Could your perception with that sense get slower over time? Would you want to develop that ability?