What exists is beyond what can exist.

(Santos, 2001, p. 20)

Recently, reading a thesis (Von der Weid, 2014) on perceptual capacities in blind people (which led me to adopt the term “support” in the title of this short essay, to refer to our perceptual capacities), I came across the clairvoyant narrative of journalist Joana Belarmino de Souza, Professor in the Journalism Department of the Federal University of Paraíba. A narrative that seems to be about her own childhood. Joana relates the discovery made by a seven-year-old blind girl who, even though familiar with the backyard of her house, one day runs into a familiar rock and gets hurt. It is under the impact of this painful experience that the girl realizes that she doesn’t see the world the way non-blind people do, and after a while, she wonders: if I can’t see like the others, “what does blindness see?” For her, her blindness had always guaranteed her own way of seeing the world:


“Within her blindness, (the girl) realized that she had always seen with her whole body. She saw with her feet, which showed her the changes in the ground; she saw with her hands, with her face; she saw through all the pores of her body and she continued seeing an entire inner spectacle that inhabited her inner self, her mind, and dialogued with the outside world in her own way, her way of ‘seeing’.

She perceived how the experience of blindness was itself “unclean” of vision, and the many times she had been ashamed of it, the many times she had denied that olfactory and auditory vision, all the ‘organs of seeing’ spread throughout her body and that had been revealed to her by the lesson of the stones” (Berlamino, 2000).


Science and Literature have plenty of reports about how people overcome sensory difficulties, on how the human organism is integrated and able to reorganize itself with each new experience. And it seems that these difficulties are challenging not only for us and our consciousness but for our own brain functioning. Professor Alain Berthoz (2005) says that our brain needs regularity, surprise, and movement, and that surprise is always a challenge for the brain and for ourselves. All this has long made me uneasy about our perceptive capacities, but, above all, about what is the future of the human being, in a context of diminishing sensitive stimulations, in today’s daily life, and of the risk, for this very reason, of the dehumanization of human beings.

The feeling of the world today

Current life — so excessively pragmatic! —does it make us forget the power of our body in its capacity to interact with the world? We have moved away from so many capacities (which are our supports to inhabit the world) achieved in the course of Evolution, that many of them begin to fade away, in us: to see and hear with our feet, to listen to what our pores say when they expand when they seal … to allow our eyes time to register the many shades of colours, lights, and shadows that nature presents us with; to travel through evocative smells, to learn with the wind. The worst thing is that with this detachment from what stimulates our senses, it is our awareness of being in a world with others that also becomes elusive. This is despite the fact that Anne Cauquelin says we construct a landscape with every corner we turn and Merleau-Ponty says that, with our gestures, we construct a mediation with the world (2008).

Science, with Damasio (2017) and the philosophies of Bergson (1999) and Spinoza (1983), teach that if we had not acquired the capacity for feeling, we most likely would not have evolved as human beings.  And certainly, without this capacity, human beings would never have created melodies. After all, it is melodies that are vital. We would never have created a garden or a meeting place in a city. Nor would we be able to recognize ourselves as beings of existence. The rich cultures that the History of Humanity records would not exist. It is precisely Damasio (2004), based on Spinoza, who relates homeostasis, this organic capacity of preserving life, to the biological structure of affections, to feelings.

But, in cities every day more similar, populated by people whose behaviours are also more and more identical; inhabiting equipment that hides us from life and consequently denies the experience in the world; we still prefer to be guided (almost without our bodies!), by any communication that promises practical life, convenience, speed, time gain. And we don’t realize that this same practical and homogeneous life robs us of what stimulates our senses, these captors of the world: to experience.

This homogeneous way of denying that we already know how much we are entangled in the web guarantees the support to live, to inhabit the world. It hides from us the risk that lies in every numbing of our sensitive capacities, leading us to risk losing the whole of ourselves. After all, only an artist’s imagination, like Calvino’s (2011), can conceive that someone like his character, the Viscount de Medrado, could be broken in half and go on living, moving in the world. However, the world presents itself so rich with sensitive stimulations, so radical to our existence, that the opposite should be unimagined. The Italian philosopher Roberto Casati says that “our vision is so wrapped in chiaroscuro that if presented to us at a stroke, a world without shadow, it would seem to us to be without thickness, without substance” (2000, p. 9).

World captors and common sense

Why do we deliberately diminish the partnership between soul and body, becoming only mental creatures, if, for example, moving in the world happens because we acquired in the course of Evolution, the sense of movement, which even brings together most of our other senses? It is true that few are yet aware of this sense, and many think that it is just a machine with feedback: move, leg! But it is not that simple. According to Berthoz (1997), with the sense of movement linked to the auditory sense, vision, and proprioception, the brain works by anticipating, reconstructing the movements of the body and the environment, and uses the capacity of memory to predict the consequences of an action, regulating it and at the same time studying the imagined movement, thinking about the future. And proprioception, this sense that makes us sure that we are ourselves existing in a certain place, still needs the sense of touch, for the human being to feel anchored in a world. So why don’t we let our tact speak? If, according to Mattens (2009), Husserl already said that touch, is much more than being linked to the visual sense, its commitment is with feeling. If the skin is our largest organ, and in no way immediate, as vision sometimes seems immediate, why do we risk losing something that took so many millennia to materialize, such as the brain’s plasticity that ensures that the blind can see the world and the deaf can hear it?

What can ensure that we remain sensitive?  Perhaps one way is to allocate time and place to the affections, to the imagination, to the minutiae of life, to let our perceptual impressions flow, as artists do, since the ability to affect ourselves has ensured the survival of humans, as Damásio (2017) makes us see.

Like Joelson Gomes and Dantas Suassuna (2011), it may be worthwhile to keep searching in Art for a concrete provocation to our capacity to affect, as in the painting of André Derain, and the landscaping of Marco Navarra. André Derain, according to Andy Pankhurst and Lucinda Hawksley (2015), in his 1905 painting Boats in Collioure Harbor, “impressed by the light on the Collioure Coast, he printed in his art what he saw and felt (…): he painted a red beach to express the heat and brightness of the sun, rejecting the common sense of a yellow beach” (p. 25).  The architect Marco Navarra (2001), with his collaborators, printed in the real landscape of a park, the Parque Linear between Caltagirone and Piazza Armerina, also in Italy, the same feeling of brightness and presence of the sun, applying a red floor to a road and highlighting it in the landscape.

It may even seem utopian to imagine that everyday life will become more important than material gains tomorrow, in a world where capital matters, and not living beings. But what if, as Boaventura de Souza Santos teaches us, “Utopia” means “the exploration, through the imagination of new human possibilities and new forms of will, just because it exists, in the name of something radically better, for which it is worth fighting and to which humanity is entitled”? (1995, p. 332).


Text: Maria de Jesus de Britto Leite*

Published on 06-04-2023

This short essay is part of the serial Movement.

*Professor of the Undergraduate Course in Architecture and Urbanism and the Graduate Course in Urban Development at UFPE. Researcher at LIARQ. Coordinator of the Center for Advanced Studies at UFPE.


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