Looking at, describing and identifying objects
Looking at, describing and identifying objects

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Looking at, describing and identifying objects

1 Meeting an object

I would like you to read the following comic poem about meeting an object:

The Blind Men and the Elephant

I
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

II
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
‘God bless me! – but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!’

III
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: ‘Ho! – what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!’

IV
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
‘I see,’ quoth he, ‘the Elephant
Is very like a snake!’

V
The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
‘What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,’ quoth he;
‘’Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!’

VI
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: ‘E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!’

VII
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
‘I see,’ quoth he, ‘the Elephant
Is very like a rope!’

VIII
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

MORAL
So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

(Saxe, 1873, pp. 77–8)

This poem pinpoints a set of challenges faced by everyone meeting an object for the first time. The central verses each use the same structure to carry their narrative. A man meets an elephant, makes an observation using his senses (‘happening to fall/Against his broad and sturdy side’), tries to understand his observation by interpreting it in terms of his previously acquired knowledge (‘the Elephant/Is very like a wall!’) and then communicates his interpretation. Now it’s your turn to use these same three stages: observation, interpretation and communication.

A105_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus