There is a planet that is full of underground caves. Some are narrow and long, others, go on for miles and are wide enough to contain entire cities. However, all of these caves, are completely dark.

One organism, commonly grows to cover just about every surface. It nourishes itself off the heat of the planet and the water which has been endlessly falling through the tunnels, and acts like a cooling system for the interior caves, whereas the surface is a scorched, barren wasteland that is unable to support any type of life. This organism tends to spread any excess water it encounters to its neighbors, resulting in cavern surfaces that are essentially covered in a film of material that helps reflect any sounds from the various lifeforms that inhabit the caves.

One particular species, called species "A" is not all that different from us humans. They started as simple caretakers of a certain plant. This plant could easily grow in the conditions of the caves, but they tended to consume large areas of space. One plant could grow to encompass the area of a football field, and the pollen it produced would be packed and stored by the A into structures not unlike a bee's nest. However, the plants generally killed the organisms mentioned above, and required the water that they spread, so the A needed to depend on multiple plants, carrying and moving the offspring to new locations after successful harvest (and accidental pollination). The long time the plant took to grow meant that the A spent a lot of time in a migratory pattern - starting new plants and then returning across vast distances to harvest the older.

Unfortunately, the A also tended to compete among themselves, and also had predators to deal with, along with other animals either trying to eat the plants, or break into their homes. They could escape many larger predators by hearing them and escaping into smaller tunnels, but smaller threats required some thinking and experimenting with a variety of tools. In the end, certain chemicals were found to be highly harmful to most underground creatures, along with certain rocks which, after being rubbed together, could create an incredible heat that ate some materials(fire) - even away from caverns devoid of any cooling organism.

From here, they managed to continue making processes and ideas simpler and more effective. They learned how to construct better and plan more effectively, as well as develop defenses for any opposing A's that may try to steal their food.

While developing into what would be humans' Renaissance Era they discovered a new environment. The temperatures here were not as severe, making our previous organism unable to grow. Instead, there were tall, centrally located plant spires which stored water and gave off a strong bio-luminescence, enabling many creatures in this area to develop eyesight, which is a rare feature on this planet.

In this area, sounds could be heard, even with their reduced hearing (from lack of the cooling organism spreading across everything) and they knew things were out there - yet they seemed unable to catch any of these strange creatures, or even get close to them. They were considered ghosts, or spirits, and A's rarely went into the area, especially because of how much their hearing ability was reduced - making them feel as if they were just bumbling about in the dark ;)

I'd like for the humanoids to somehow discover that the other animals are using sight in the manner that our humanoids use sound in their own caves.

What is the earliest and most likely way (starting from the technology level of the Renaissance Era) that our humanoids would be able to discover that the animals are using a different method of detection (sight), and then successfully accomplish catching one of these animals?

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Oct 11 '15 at 2:12

A sightless race would have become more in tune with their other senses to allow them to hunt and to farm successfully. If you can hear where an animal is, and you can recognize it by the sounds it makes and you can throw a spear at a lethal spot. Or lure it into a pit trap you have dug. They would have devised techniques.

The hunters who are first into the new terrain with the sighted creatures would first notice the difference in the animals. They would sound different. Probably have louder footfalls compared to sightless animals. Yet they would avoid stepping on twigs and kicking loose debris. They would likely be able to move swifter as well.

The hunters would ask “How can they move so fast and yet avoid all obstacles, including my traps?” Especially on a quiet day when there was no wind to make things rustle. “They must have a sixth sense about the terrain around them.” (in this case a 5th sense). Defining this sense would take some time. Perhaps even some plants (like the sunflower) might be classified as possessing this.

Real breakthroughs in its understanding would probably come once some small sighted scavenger begins to establish a symbiotic relationship with the sightless humanoids, or vice versa.

This would be similar to a dog/human relationship or a human/horse or human/cow relationship. Once a sighted animal becomes domesticated it is only a matter of time.

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  • $\begingroup$ You may have misread the question - in their natural environment they did not require any additional senses or heightened senses, and they are not hunters. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 8 '15 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ They would have to be immobile to not require an awareness of the space around them. If they require an awareness of the space around them then they need some higher level of senses then sighted humans have. Non sighted humans have claimed to have developed echo location. $\endgroup$ – PCSgtL Oct 8 '15 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ What reason do you have to suspect that they require an awareness of the space around them that our current ears, nose, and touch cannot account for? $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 8 '15 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble, the fact that it is a frequent report that our own blind, tend to have their other senses heightened when compared to a sighted person. Also because without those heightened senses how many blind people do you see getting along on their own without any assistance at all? There is a reason blind people have canes/dogs/other helpers. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Oct 8 '15 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ [citation needed] but as far as I'm aware, blind people actively repurpose the vision centers of their brains to make their other senses objectively better than a sighted person. But there's also an enormous difference between a blind guy getting around in a modern environment, and surviving in a pre-civilization environment. I have serious doubts a species could evolve with just secondary senses unless they were much better than ours. $\endgroup$ – MichaelS Oct 9 '15 at 3:38

Well there are a couple issues to deal with this. First, any animal that has any chance of success, needs to be able to sense its surroundings. Most animals on Earth use sight as their primary sense of their outside world. There are some that other senses replace this.

Bats are much more dependent on their hearing, ie echolocation. Your humans would likely have EXCELLENT hearing to the point that they don't need sight. Many blind today are actually learning echolocation on their own (or are being taught).

So in a wooded area, these humans might actually be aware of MANY more animals than a similarly sighted human. They would hear the mice rustling through the detritus.

Now we can imagine echolocation fairly easily because it is an extension of one of the senses we already have. Now it might be much more difficult to "envision" a sense we don't have anything similar too. I'm pretty sure it took scientists to theorize the sense of magnetism. Lots of study and questions.

To even guess at 'vision' you would need to have some idea of electromagnetic radiation at some level. Understanding heat might give some clue. But your talking renaissance and some theories at that time still had maggots spontaneously growing out of dead meat.

The first 'theories' might be that these animals have very good hearing or smell (or some combination) that allows them to 'spot' things that they shouldn't. I would guess that these explanations would last for a long time. Since most animals DO have better senses than us. Now do these humans have eyes? just useless ones? that might put them off a good theory even longer. If they don't then they might begin wondering what those organs are.

Then next step might be noticing that the 'sun' or a large far away fire seems to travel across the sky fairly regularly. Noticing closer heat sources and that their own bodies give off heat might bring about a theory that the eyes can sense these 'heat' rays emanating from the body from a great distance. Without a sighted human to help this along that is probably about as close as a renaissance person will get to theorizing and understanding sight.

There will be a bit of misunderstanding once the two peoples meet, especially as we tend to use our vision in our communications to describe things.

Human hearing is actually a very decent input tool for people, the problem is most of us have not trained ourselves to utilize it very well. Blind people are forced to pay much more attention to this sense, as well as the sense of touch.

Now you have a group of people that have been blind for generations? Their hearing will have improved to make our blind seem deaf as well. And will they will be handicapped in one sense we would be similarly handicapped to them in another.

There are blind people who have taught themselves to ride bikes down the road.

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  • $\begingroup$ You may have misread the question - in their natural environment they did not require any additional senses or heightened senses, and they are not meeting other "peoples" - I am aware that humans have a technique for echolocation, but this doesn't answer "What is the earliest and most likely way (starting from the technology level of the Renaissance Era) that our humanoids would be able to discover the concept of sight?" $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 8 '15 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble Ha, you're right, I missed the primary question. I'll have to rework it. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Oct 8 '15 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble added more in the middle. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Oct 8 '15 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ At this point I have greatly expanded on the information available in the question. I hope it helps clarify things. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 9 '15 at 21:52

Assuming these humans have all human senses except sight, I'd think the only sense that could in any way detect light would be the sense of touch. There are a lot of cases where light and heat go hand-in-hand; for instance, you can tell if you're under a heating lamp even if you're blind. If someone were to place a barrier between you and the lamp, both its light and its heat would no longer reach you, the latter of which you could detect.

While I don't think this would initially be understood as light in the way we understand it, there are definitely applications for this correlation. For instance, imagine a series of mirrors used for long-distance communication: put one hand on the accepting mirror, and another on a control mirror, and if the first one is hotter than the second, light is being transmitted to it. Since you've reached Renaissance era, you probably already have fire available (for warmth and food preparation), and you probably have the necessary shiny metals to make mirrors.

From here, imagine a story about aliens on a dark planet that only emit radio waves. It's a wave used for communication that we can't see, but maybe with enough technology or some luck we can at least realize what's happening, and how to use it to our advantage. Going back to light, think about the sun; maybe your humans realize the animals only show up during the hot parts of the day, and someone makes the connection that they're using the sun's heat for navigation. So maybe they start using their super-powerful mirrors to 'communicate' with the animals, and end up burning/blinding them so badly that they can be captured.

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    $\begingroup$ As a note, from googling some, as far as I can tell humans don't know of a single species that has evolved to not have sight that lives in a lighted enviroment... I can't think of any situation where there is enough light available for sight and a species wouldn't evolve to use it. It's too much of an advantage since it provides feedback faster then any other sense. Even bats with their echo location aren't blind. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Oct 8 '15 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ @ryan All plants (that I'm aware of) that use photosynthesis are species that don't have sight that live in a lighted environment. Also, note that in my question their natural environment actually has no light - this goes well with the small species list given on wikipedia, including moles, salamanders, spiders, and many sightless insects and fish which live in the dark - but could conceivably come out of a cave if they desired and experience the heat of the sun. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 9 '15 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble, plants don't move. They are plants not animals. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Oct 9 '15 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ @ryan Plants do move, but I agree plants are not animals. My point was just that there are species that evolved to not have sight in a lit environment. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 9 '15 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ Army Ants and Driver ants are Blind and live on the surface (in large roaming colonies, not underground). $\endgroup$ – Joel Boulet Oct 13 '15 at 15:43

I have serious reserves about a species of human intellect level evolving from the start without sight. Even if they somehow achieved this apparently impossible feat, farming is far, far far fetched idea.

Having said that, even a blind species would be aware of other creatures. That would be through their noises. And occasionally one of them would stumble across a dead hog laying in the fields. Some of them, stumbling across a live grizzly bear or leopard would find the existence of other creatures the hard way.

Anyhow. It comes to be known that the true perception of a new sensory organ and its working cannot be understood or proven by mere logic and rationality. We humans know bats have the ability of echolocation. We also know that they use very high frequency sound for that purpose. But how does it feel to sketch your environment accurately merely with echoes of your own cry? What is the real sensation of that? Nobody knows that.

So no. Such a species (which has extremely extremely thin chances of coming into being) can never figure out that there is such a thing as sight.

Reading a short story titled The Country Of The Blind (author H. G. Wells) is highly recommended.


Yes it is logically possible to determine that some other creatures have a sense that we do not possess. We see its examples in the form of birds which travel hundreds of miles in their annual migrations and some humming birds are known to find the exact patch of vegetation every year. They must be using some sense for this, we are sure of that (by experience), but we cannot determine exactly which sense it is.

Similarly, using logic, we can determine that bats use some sort of locating method to map their environment. But with logic alone, we cannot determine which sense it is.

For a group of blind people, the biggest hindrance to scientific exploration is ... well ... their lack of sight. We are so predominantly dependent on eyesight that I am unable to figure out how they would track animal movement and figure out their reactions in the absence of sight. It is known that naturally blind people have extremely keen hearing and they can accurately determine distances with hearing. But still, there is a long way to go from saying "Hey! This dog is running away from me once I picked up my lance" to deriving the conclusion "Dogs must be able to map their environment in some different manner than us, because they dodge all the obstacles we place in their way, so elegantly. We could never have done that."

I think the evolution of those people would take an entirely different set of sensory organs, which would lead to a different type of logical reasoning than us. They might be able to figure out that the other animals use some sort of sensory apparatus which they (people) do not possess, but how they can determine that, is almost impossible for us (visual humans) to determine.

Even if they are able to domesticate (they really can do that, if they advance enough to be a farming people) some animals, they would only find it queer that those animals can sense the presence of other objects in their environment far quicker and in far more detail (probably, I'm not sure how much accurate and detailed the surroundings map of blind people would be) than the people. Even if they feel their eyes with their hands, they would hardly have the justification to say "Here! Now this is the organ that creates all the difference!" Unless, some sadist, mad-scientist ...

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    $\begingroup$ I think it's interesting that you use the case of bat's echolocation to prove that they can't discover that other animals use sight. I tend to think it points to the opposite. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 8 '15 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ Let's throw science out of the window and use rationality only (as would the people in your world). How can we ever know what it feels like to echolocate? What is the sensation of the image that forms in the mind with the echo of your shriek? Nobody knows. Nobody can know unless they feel it the way bats do. $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Oct 8 '15 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ Why does what it "feels like" to echolocate relate to the discovery that bats use echolocation? $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 8 '15 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ They don't have to know how it feels to have sight to recognize the reactions of a sighted animal using a sense they don't have. We use bloodhounds to track, having no idea what it feels like to have such a sense. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Oct 8 '15 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ I'm guessing you mistook my wording of "discovering the concept of sight" to mean figuring out how it feels to have sight and using that knowledge, but I just mean discovering that other animals can use some unknown sense, in this case sight. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 8 '15 at 18:41

I think they might discover it sooner than you think. In fact, I think your humans may construct something sight-like, simply by nature.

Let's assume we define sight to be the ability to detect EM radiation (in the usual range). Our humanoids simply don't have that ability. However, that does not mean they cannot comprehend the ability of others. I think their first signs of sight would come from plants. Any farmer sufficiently in tune with their plants would quickly discover that the plants try to grow towards the sun. They may initially associate that with reaching towards warmth, but it would take a relatively short period of time for them to determine that warmth is not sufficient for plant growth. They would be able to tell there is something that helps plants grow which moves in a way they cannot sense directly, but indirectly they can infer that something must be there.

Once we have the concept of others that have some ability to detect light, it can grow into more complex concepts. They may begin using things that can detect light to do things for us (just like we use dogs for their keen sense of smell).

Once you are aware that sight can exist, realizing that there is a sighted species is a lot easier.

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  • $\begingroup$ At this point I have greatly expanded on the information available in the question. I hope it helps clarify things. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 9 '15 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ That does help explain quite a lot. As part of constructing a new answer, what's your thoughts on the young seeing creatures? While a wise old seeing creature may be very effective at being hard to detect because it can move, the young are often much less exacting in their movements. Might the youth of a species be detected by the blind species? If so, then that opens the door for exploration. Very few things in life are binary, so there has to be a group of seeing individuals who are in the fuzzy region between detectable and not $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 9 '15 at 22:09
  • $\begingroup$ It sounds possible, (I've assumed the young always had parents safeguarding them, but those young ones never listen!) - my new approach is to imagine myself suddenly unable to see and hearing strange animals around me. I walk forward and happen to touch a young soft, furry/scaly/slimy something? I'm out of there! I'm trying to aim for a solution where they might find certain scientific advances and try testing those for their success - but it is looking like some kind of accident such you are suggesting is "the earliest and most likely way" $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 9 '15 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble That seems like a reasonable approach to trying to make sense of it. I have, found that those who are blind have an extraordinary ability to process what something is from a single touch, and react. You and I are generally taught that, by the time something touches us, we better know what it is. We never develop a strong sense of what to do once an unknown touches us. A blind individual, as awesome as their awareness has to be, will end up being surprised more often than a seeing individual in many circumstances, so they learn how to work with a surprising touch... $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 9 '15 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ .. rather than immediately having to jerk away. That split second may be all it takes, especially if they were predators. Your blind species is, of course, farmers, but predators that see poorly (like spiders) have an extraordinary ability to make the first touch be the last touch the prey ever feels. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 9 '15 at 22:40

It might go something like this: people begin exploring this new region and notice that they never get very close to the animals that live there. They seem to sense them even when they are walking very stealthily (as they would surely know how to do). They may suspect that these animals have much better hearing than humans do, so they'd probably try to stand completely still to avoid making any noise.

They may notice that this works a lot better in forested areas than in plains, but no one can figure out why. Some of them may get tired standing in the plains all day waiting for animals, so they often lie down in the tall grass while they wait. It's soon noticed that the animals get much closer before they're able to detect the humans and run away. These and similar observations are recorded and brought to their best natural philosophers with the hope that they will be able to make some sense of them.

These people, although sightless, would certainly have a good understanding of 3d space, since they must navigate it somehow to find food, materials for tools and shelter, to avoid predators, etc.

Most of the people already realize that the way these animals are detecting their presence depends heavily on the geometry of the surrounding environment and their position in the environment relative to other objects. It wouldn't be too big of a leap to notice that when there are objects (grass, trees, boulders, etc.) between the (silent) humans and the sighted animals, they usually cannot be detected by whatever sense the animals are using. This wouldn't seem too far-fetched because the presence of obstacles affects their own ability to hear sounds emitted from the other side of those obstacles (usually making them more difficult to hear).

They notice that the sense used by these animals is affected to a much greater degree by the presence of objects between them and the animal than their own sense of hearing is affected by the same obstacles. From there it's a pretty straightforward idea to surround oneself with objects while waiting for the animals. When this technique is used, the animals get closer than ever before and the humans often go completely unnoticed.

At this point, even though they don't understand the exact nature of sight, they now would have the ability to counteract the animals' sense of vision. Now, I'm not sure what you mean when you say that traps are not allowed. I don't know why the fact that these people don't trap animals for food would mean that they couldn't come up with the idea to set a trap. I'm also not sure what you would consider a trap. Is it just that automated traps aren't allowed or can they lie in wait and pull a rope to trigger the trap at the right moment? If neither is allowed, how else would they capture an animal? A lasso? Running up and grabbing the animal? Both of these would be extremely difficult (and most likely quite dangerous) for blind people.

If a manually triggered trap is allowed, then all they would have to do is get some bait, hide themselves and wait for an animal to come, use the sounds made by the animal to determine it's position and trigger the trap at the right moment. It may take a few tries, but they would get it right eventually. If this kind of trap isn't allowed, I guess do the same thing except instead of triggering a trap, just get a bunch of people to run toward the animal from different directions and hope it's not a bear or a deer. Although this is more of a stone-age level of sophistication than a Renaissance one.

Edit: I wrote and posted this before I saw the extensive changes you made to the question, including the removal of the restriction on traps. Does that mean they're allowed now? If so, I'll change that part of my answer.

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Exactly the same way that non-psychic humanoids would discover the abilities of psychic humanoids which avoid the non-psychic humanoids... Never!

The non-sighted humanoids might be able to discover the concept of sight if they were to interact with sighted humans. In which case the non-sighted humanoids might notice the exceptional abilities of the sighted humanoids.

Eventually, they might start noticing patterns. For example, the abilities of the sighted humanoids are much better in open fields and during certain hours of the daily cycle (I assume that the non-sighted humanoids have the concept of day and night albeit not as clearly defined as the sighted humanoids ). They might be stumped as to why sometimes the abilities of the sighted humanoids are relatively sharp during the night (as they are less likely to understand the monthly moon cycles). Even then, their concept of sight would be rather nebulous.

In the extreme case that a sighted humanoid came forward and revealed possessing the ability to see, that humanoid might be found guilty of deception or trickery instead.

The best chance of the non-sighted humanoids to understand sight would be to hold constructive discussion with sighted humanoids on the topic of sight.

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  • $\begingroup$ At this point I have greatly expanded on the information available in the question. I hope it helps clarify things. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 9 '15 at 21:53

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