Real-Life Daredevils: Some Blind People Can Use Echolocation to “See”
Ashley Allen / 2 years ago
A Canadian neuroscientist has demonstrated that blind people can use echolocation to compensate for their absent sight, using sound to determine the proximity, shape, density, and texture of an object, operating in a similar way to Marvel superhero Daredevil. Dr. Mel Goodale, Director of the Brain and Mind Institute at the University of Western Ontario, has been researching echolocation – a sound visualisation technique used by bats and dolphins – in blind people since 2011, and has now proven that certain visually impaired individuals can effectively imitate sight through the echoes produced when the sound of tongue or finger clicks echo off of objects.
“Our experiments show that echolocation is not just a tool to help visually-impaired individuals navigate their environment, but can act as an effective sensory replacement for vision, allowing them to recognize the shape, size, and material properties of objects” Goodale says.
Goodale’s experiments show that when subjects use echolocation, the visual centre of the brain – the part that would ordinarily process information received from the eyes – lights up, meaning that the brain is actually “seeing” its surrounding, constructing images through the echolocation process.
“Remarkably, expert blind echolocators can tell whether something is hard or soft, dense or not, just by listening to the echoes bouncing back from that material” Goodale adds.
‘Losing one sense enhances the others’ may be a myth, but Goodale’s experiments demonstrate that the infinitely complex brain has other ways of compensating for lost senses, and that perception isn’t necessarily confined to its associated sense.