A person is born with no senses, so he can't hear, speak or sense.

The only way in which the world can communicate with him is through brain signalling. So they can send different signals to his brain, which will evoke an distinct emotion in him.

The only way he can communicate back with the world is through brain signalling too. So he can send a specific kind of signals back.

Will this person be ever able to learn a language of communication.

Say that the person with no sensory perception is A and a person trying to communicate with A is B. So can A and B develop a framework in which A and B will be able to exchange ideas just like normal people.

  • $\begingroup$ If you have no senses you cannot response to any inputs. Thus you woulf basically be a rock. Lying around. Doing nothing. This person probably wouldn't survive for long. Perhaps wouldn't even be able to be born. $\endgroup$ – BlueWizard Oct 23 '16 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with this is that a brain needs the data from the sensors to develop understanding of the world, and to communicate effectively with people that is born without sense, you need to hook up this person with the brain interface from birth and fed the brain with a lot of things to teach the brain about the world, how to think, how to interpret brain signals, and which brain signal to send out. A baby developing without sensory input, in this case, is likely functioning essentially just as a very huge almost empty, uninitialized neural network. $\endgroup$ – Lie Ryan Oct 23 '16 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ so the person has a sense just an artificial one. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 19 '16 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ If they got this sense early enough to have input during brain development they would indeed develop a rudimentary language, even if only in their own head. if they did not, then they are not going to have emotions becasue there is nothing to trigger them. the brain is basically a device for interpreting sensory data, without sensory data it is like a calculator with no input, it is a fancy brick. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 19 '16 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ No senses means no hunger, balance, temperature senses, pressure, and a host of things besides the basic 5 - this person will be vegetative for their entire life, and unless there is a reason to keep them on constant life support, they will not survive to be taught brain communication $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Nov 20 '16 at 0:36

This is actually a standing question in philosophy. The connection between the sense and thinking is the topic of many essays, and language is typically considered to be sub-topic within "thinking." As such, there will be no easy cookie-cutter-answer. There never is, when it comes to philosophy. Instead, there will be subtle questions that try to dislodge your concept. The idea is that, by exploring the answers to these subtle questions, you come closer to actually understanding what you were originally asking.

In this case, I am going to take your two definitions for the subject's state, and play with them a bit:

The only way in which the world can communicate with him is through brain signalling. So they can send different signals to his brain, which will evoke an distinct emotion in him.

The only way he can communicate back with the world is through brain signalling too. So he can send a specific kind of signals back.

Now let's implement this. We're going to need something wire like which can send electrical (or chemical) impulses directly into the subject's brain. Presumably these are connected to machinery that are designed to convey "meaningful" stimuli to the subject. In this case, I define "meaningful" to mean "has meaning for at least one person," which may be a doctor in the room, the subject itself, or even a deity, if one believes that deity exists. The exact definition is left intentionally vague, but it explicitly excludes the idea of a content-less world. It seems unlikely to me that, in a world devoid of content, language would ever be useful enough to develop.

Now we're going to need a way to signal the outside world. Again, we need something wire-like to take electrical (or chemical) potentials from the brain and convey them elsewhere. Now for this step, I'm going to assume that another individual exists, and that the equipment is designed to help convey meaning to them. While you can find meaning in a solipsistic universe where you are the only conscious entity, communicating with language in such an environment is strange. So let's assume someone else exists, just to hand wave away that tricky bit. Presumably that device measuring brain states would be built in a way to maximize the possibility of meaningful transfer of information.

Okay, let's implement this a bit further. It can be really hard to pick up highly transient signals unless you know their meaning ahead of time. They're a difficult class of signals to act on. So let's simplify further. We're only going to signal this brain via enveloped sinusoidal signals. This means that each signal has a frequency, and its amplitude changes over time much slower than the beats of the frequency itself. I like this subset of signals because, as an engineer, I know I can build software and hardware to work with them. For example, I can take nearly any transient sequence, and via a windowed Fourier transform or a wavelet transform, and I can break that sequence up into a bunch of these enveloped sinusoidal signals. This means the engineers are happy with you when you hand them the plans for your machine. These engineers may also point out that some of those signals can be hard enough to work with, that it'd be convenient if they could drop the sinusoid bit and merely convey the amplitude information. It moves much slower, so it's easy to work with.

Now for the signalling out of the brain. If I was developing a way to help someone communicate out of their brain, I'd concentrate on approaches which permit exploration. No brain is going to learn to output perfect 10/8b encoded digital messages with CRC-32 checksums. It's too hard, too little room for exploring ways to use it. Instead, I'd try to create an analog system. I'd try to create something where the response to the electrical stimulus for the brain is continuous. I'd also try to do something which makes feedback-based-learning easy. Since we have an enveloped sinusoidal signal providing inputs, it'd be really helpful if the output of the brain was also an enveloped sinusoidal signal. In electrical engineering, we have a great tool for this, called a Voltage Controlled Oscillator (VCXO). When you change the voltage, the frequency of the output changes. We also have a bunch of great things called filters, which can take a signal, from a VCXO or any noise source, and filter it based on frequency to "shape" the sound. We could hook up our subject's brain to these devices, and then let them experiment with them. Maybe give them a stimulus and see if they can replicate it.

Now I just picked one very small subset of your test space. You were wondering if you could communicate with the subject through brain signalling. I made the question far harder by narrowing it down to a single implementation of that brain signalling. Obviously, if I can prove that language is possible in my case, it will prove that it works in yours.

I also chose my example pretty careful, so that it is easy to prove. My input system parallels human hearing, where the cochlea breaks down sounds into different frequencies before transmitting their amplitude information into the auditory cortex. Likewise, my output system parallels human speech. Voice synthesizers for computers actually use these exact inputs. You provide a signal with frequency information plus noise, and then filter it into the sound you want. The real human vocal tract has vocal chords to provide those signals and noise, and we contract muscles to shape the mouth to emphasize and de-emphasize different frequencies (if this sounds strange, check out Tuvan Throat Singing, where they intentionally shape the mouth to resonate a harmonic of the note being sung, rather than the note itself!)

So, given that my subset of your problem describes the approach of a hearing and speaking human individual, and they learn language, that should demonstrate just how versatile the concept of language learning can be!


Unless the “signaling” mimics a sensory system, the brain will have severe developmental issues, well beyond learning language. The brain needs input to shape its growth, and the learning system is based on provided channels of input. Either the prothesis qualifies as being a sense, or you have worse problems than language acquisition.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. This problem is from a surprisingly real world situation of creating a standalone AI bot. Does the same problem arise with this? $\endgroup$ – Confuse Oct 23 '16 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ Considering the fact that enough input will definitely be available in form of text $\endgroup$ – Confuse Oct 23 '16 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ Well, unlike a human, the AI would either already be set up as a working mind (not a newborn), or designed to grow the neurql network based on that text input. But I wonder how it can learn without physical interactions to base the meaning of words. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 23 '16 at 3:39
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    $\begingroup$ Note that such an AI is different from “a person”, where you implied a newborn baby. People have specific brain development that continues well after birth. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 23 '16 at 3:40
  • $\begingroup$ Language only makes sense with context. Words or symbols must have correlates in the world and that world is perceived through the senses. Someone without won't be able to make sense of a string of brain signals, if all they are receiving is those brain signals. Unless the brain signals carry contextual information about the world around them. More than simply brain development is required postnatally. The senses themselves need stimuli and development. They grow as they perceive the world, so they can perceive the world. No sense, no world. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 23 '16 at 3:50

A person born without "the normal five" senses would die in under a week due to lack of food, since they would not be able to eat. Even with extreme medical intervention, their lifespan would be, at best, months.

Digging deeper, someone with no senses probably wouldn't be able to contract any muscles, including smooth muscles. If you're lucky (if), the heart beats. Even then, if you got food into their stomach, they wouldn't be able to force it through their intestines in a normal fashion. Hormone levels would not be properly regulated, including hormones that would be immediately deadly if unbalanced (like insulin).

Assuming this baby even made it to term (because of the stabilizing influence of the mother), it would be a still-birth.

  • $\begingroup$ Coma patients can be tube fed with liquefied diet, even in the lack of a functioning gastrointestinal tract, it is also possible to live without food by relying on intravenous drip (total parenteral nutrition). Stomach and heart operates independently without the brain. $\endgroup$ – Lie Ryan Oct 23 '16 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ @LieRyan Coma patients have senses. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Oct 23 '16 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ The point is that many basic bodily functions can operate without any input from the brain, babies born without brain (anencephalic babies) and coma patients are evidences of that. Babies born without five senses does not necessarily mean that it cannot survive when given appropriate life support. In practice though, such babies would often be considered essentially stillborn and be kept alive only long enough to be used as organ donor, even if they can actually live indefinitely on life support. $\endgroup$ – Lie Ryan Oct 23 '16 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ @LieRyan Coma patients has touch sense enough for some reflexes. And babies you mentioned do have cerebellum, so some forms of processing senses are avaliable to them. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 23 '16 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ @LieRyan - I suppose it depends if the touch sense was "merely" not reaching the brain, or if it truly didn't exist. If it didn't exist, reflexes (like swallowing, breathing, heartbeats) wouldn't be triggered - without touch the body wouldn't know if they had happened or not, when they were needed, anything. The body that doesn't know when or how to breathe because it couldn't trigger that first reflex, can't swallow (or gag) because the throat can't feel the touch, is different from a body with nerve signals intact, where systems can signal locally even if they can't reach the brain. $\endgroup$ – Megha Oct 24 '16 at 4:48

Let's go back to basics. There is a deep philosophy question here, as some answers comment, and also neuroscience issues of how deeply the body, brain, neurotransmitters and CNS are integrated and how far it makes sense to discuss them as separate. But let's try to get some kind of answer.

A "sense" as we colloquially use the word, is nothing more than a way of cognitively perceiving internally, from the external environment. Note that nerve and neurotransmitter signals from your body and brain are also part of that "external environment" for practical purposes, as far as your awareness goes.

Being able to receive signals via brain signalling is inconsistent with a total lack of senses. As soon as meaningful input can be perceived, in lay terms it means a sense exists. It may be one they can't use, because they have never developed awareness or the ability to notice it, but as a sense, it exists.

Senses have significance because they carry meaning. Meaning generally requires correlation to be created or learned. So it will be hard for any communication to carry meaning, as there is nothing else to correlate with and learn meaning from. For example, if your subject got brain signal X when a wash or feed was due, they would have to be aware of the event "washing" or "feeding" as well, to attach that meaning to it. But they lack any other senses, so how can the signal gain any practical real-world meaning or usefully refer to any object, event, or the subject themself?

And isn't that an essential quality and function of a (human natural speech) language?

(This is where we verge into philosophy, as presumably a sequence like "zap! - zap!zap! - zap!zap!zap!" could have meaning innately without any other source.... but of what use other than to affirm communication exists, hence not sure its relevant to the question as asked?)


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