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Sensory Substitution and Augmentation$
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Fiona Macpherson

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266441

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266441.001.0001

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Limits of the Classical Functionalist Perspective on Sensory Substitution

Limits of the Classical Functionalist Perspective on Sensory Substitution

(p.130) 8 Limits of the Classical Functionalist Perspective on Sensory Substitution
Sensory Substitution and Augmentation

Maurice Ptito

Katrine Iversen

Malika Auvray

Ophelia Deroy

Ron Kupers

, Fiona Macpherson
British Academy

The tongue display unit (TDU) is a sensory substitution device that translates visual images into electrotactile stimulation that is transmitted to the tongue and leads to new perceptual skills following training. Trained users, including blind individuals, become capable of orientation discrimination, motion detection, shape recognition and they can also successfully use the TDU to navigate in an environment, locate objects and avoid obstacles. Many studies and discussions have focused on the effects of training at the behavioural level, and assumed that the effects shown in training blindfolded sighted individuals are similar to those observed in blind people. In doing so, we argue that behavioural research on sensory substitution shows a functionalist bias. Functionalism claims that mental processes can be individuated by their characteristic inputs and outputs, and that the physical realization of a given function introduces no relevant difference, as long as the function is the same. We emphasize here why this assumption biases the interpretation of sensory substitution devices.

Keywords:   sensory substitution, blind, functionalism, tongue display unit, electrotactile stimulation

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