M(olyneux’s) P(roblem) 3

What happens when the tactile becomes visual? Links contain an album that was once furnished in a grooved plate. The intermediary of links is not a machine whose sole purpose is music. It is, rather, a word processor, a machine that converts everything into code.

Even with those machines previous to computers, the tactile element of music existed in the carrier. A record can be felt, its sleeve examined, gleaned and polished just right. Even the process is visualized. Needle is placed on the record, a CD is placed inside the player. Today one can copy and paste a link to an mp3. Music appears, but how? One cannot feel around for any moving parts. There is only sight. The experience is now visual.

More than three centuries ago, William Molyneux posed a question to his philosopher friend John Locke. The question so took Locke that he put it on record in his 1690 Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

“Suppose a man born blind, and now adult, and taught by his touch to distinguish and between a cube and sphere [be] made to see: [could he now] by his sight, before he touched them…distinguish and tell which was the globe and which was the cube?”

Molyneux’s problem concerns a change in sense perception. Use of one sense is augmented by the introduction of another. What happens? Are the objects the same as when she only felt them? How connected are our senses?

We are living out a variation of Molyneux’s problem with music. Culturally accustomed to manipulating music tactilely, we now are made to do so with the visual. This change creates such a contrast that we are left to ponder: is music the same as when we experienced it as a tactile artifact? Are we dealing with the same thing? And if not, what are the repercussions?


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