WHAT IS “SONARVISION”?
The “super hero” character Daredevil from Marvel Comics uses a type of radar or sonar to see the world around him.
Can We Believe In A Human Superpower?
Recent studies have shown that the brains of people who have been blind since birth or an early age rewire themselves to adapt to the loss of a sensory ability. As Science Daily reported, “The brains of those who are born blind make new connections in the absence of visual information, resulting in enhanced, compensatory abilities such as a heightened sense of hearing, smell and touch, as well as cognitive functions (such as memory and language) according to a new study led by Massachusetts Eye and Ear researchers. The report, published online in PLOS One, describes for the first time the combined structural, functional and anatomical changes in the brain evident in those born with blindness that are not present in normally sighted people.
Through our research partnerships over the years, we have learned that it is necessary for the brain to be “trained” or repeatedly stimulated over time to activate this rewiring.
We’ve previously discovered that the echoes from our specialized FlashSonar™ tongue clicks activate, or “light up” the Visual Cortex – the part of the brain normally involved in processing sight that people presume goes dormant in a blind person.
In our process that we call “Visioneering”, we augment the brain training and Visual Cortex activation with full-length Perception Cane training using longer than traditional blind navigation canes to provide additional perceptual context which all combines to produce a sort of fuzzy spatial geometry that we call SonarVision – our method of “seeing with sound”.
“When I think of Daniel Kish (Lead Visioneers) riding bikes and hiking, using his own type of sonar to guide him, I’m reminded that superheroes can exist in real life, and perhaps that is the ultimate appeal: to spawn and cultivate a belief in our own strength.”
That quote from writer Shoshana Seidman in a 2015 article in TheFanzine which raises two very interesting questions: “Is blindness real and objective or is it a societal construction? Are the blind really unable to see, or is there more to the story?”.
We know there is more to the story.
For convenience, we’ve placed Shoshana’s article in the tab Daredevil vs. Batman and invite you to explore the Science of SonarVision throughout the other tabs in this section, and throughout this page. Feel free to send any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brain Scan Studies and Perspectives in Neural Science
“We are not teaching skills; we are activating neurology.” – Daniel Kish
Insight Magazine, United Kingdom – September, 2008
Gordon Dutton, Emeritus Professor of Vision Science, Glasgow
Caledonian University, Consultant Ophthalmologist
Professor Gordon Dutton, highly reputed Neural Pediatric Ophthalmologist gives his perspective on the positive impact of FlashSonar training on blind children.
PLoS ONE (Public Library of Science) – May, 2011
by Thaler L, Arnott SR, Goodale MA
University, Western Ontario
A small percentage of blind people are adept at echolocating silent objects simply by producing mouth clicks and listening to the returning echoes. The neural architecture underlying this type of human echolocation has not previously been investigated. The functional brain activity of Daniel Kish (early blind) and Brian Bushway (late blind) were measured while they listened to their own echolocation sounds. When brain activity were compared for sounds that contained both clicks and the returning echoes vs. brain activity for control sounds that did not contain the echoes, but were otherwise acoustically matched, activity was found in the visual cortex in both individuals. Importantly, for the same comparison, a difference in activity in auditory cortex was not observed. The activity in Daniel’s visual cortex was found to be greater for echoes reflected from surfaces located in contralateral space – the side of the visual cortex opposite to the side at which the sound/echo was presented. These findings suggest that processing of click-echoes recruits brain regions typically devoted to vision rather than audition in both early and late blind echolocation experts, and that the patterns of processing echoes closely resemble those of processing visual input. “We thank Daniel Kish and Brian Bushway … who acted as consultants throughout the experiments, providing invaluable technical and practical advice about echolocation and the nature of the testing materials …” More articles about this work and related topics can be found on our “Health and Well Being” page.
“It is important to emphasize that the use of echolocation in the blind goes well beyond localizing objects in the environment. The experts we studied were also able to use echolocation to perceive object shape and motion – and even object identity. In addition, they were able to use passive listening with 10-kHz cut-off to do these kinds of tasks – which made it possible for us to probe neural substrates of their abilities. … our data clearly show that EB and LB use echolocation in a way that seems uncannily similar to vision. In this way, our study shows that echolocation can provide blind people with a high degree of independence and self-reliance in their daily life. This has broad practical implications in that echolocation is a trainable skill that can potentially offer powerful and liberating opportunities for blind and vision-impaired people.”
Toward a Science of Consciousness – April, 2012
Prof. Lore Thaler
Lore Thaler presents the current brain scan research to indicate the role of the visual cortex and other brain mechanisms in the processing of human FlashSonar.
Neuropsychologia – February, 2013
Stephen Arnott, Lore Thaler, Jennifer Milne, Daniel Kish, Melvyn Goodale
We have previously reported that an early-blind echolocating individual (EB) showed robust occipital activation when he identified distant, silent objects based on echoes from his tongue clicks (Thaler, Arnott, & Goodale, 2011). In the present study we investigated the extent to which echolocation activation in EB’s occipital cortex reflected general echolocation processing per se versus feature-specific processing.
Adv Exp Med Biol – 2013
Sven Schörnich, Ludwig Wallmeier, Nikodemus Gessele, Andreas Nagy, Michael Schranner, Daniel Kish, Lutz Wiegrebe
“The skills of some blind humans orienting in their environment through the auditory analysis of reflections from self-generated sounds, has received only little scientific attention to date. Here we present data from a series of formal psychophysical experiments with sighted subjects trained to evaluate features of a virtual echo-acoustic space, allowing for rigid and fine-grain control of the stimulus parameters. The data show how subjects shape both their vocalisations and auditory analysis of the echoes to serve specific echo-acoustic tasks.”
Neural Correlates of Motion Processing through Echolocation, Source Hearing and Vision in Blind Echolocation Experts and Sighted Echolocation Novices
Journal of Neurophysiology – October 16, 2013
American Physiological Society
Lore Thaler, Jennifer L Milne, Stephen R Arnott, Daniel Kish, and Melvyn A Goodale
“We have shown in previous research that motion processing through echolocation activates temporal-occipital cortex in blind echolocation experts. Here we investigated how neural substrates of echo-motion are related to neural substrates of auditory source-motion and visual motion. … Our data suggest a functional segregation of processing of auditory source-motion and echo-motion in human temporal-occipital cortex. Furthermore, the data suggest that the echo-motion response in blind experts may represent a reorganization rather than exaggeration of response observed in sighted novices. There is the possibility that this reorganization [in the blind echolocators] involves the recruitment of ‘visual’ cortical areas.”
Articles and news pieces on the plasticity of blind brains that learn to see.
Vision Research – July, 2014,
By Jennifer Milne, Stephen Arnott, Daniel Kish, Melvyn Goodale, Lore Thaler Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario, Canada
“Some blind humans use sound to navigate by emitting mouth-clicks and listening to the echoes that reflect from silent objects and surfaces in their surroundings. These echoes contain information about the size, shape, location, and material properties of objects. Here we present results from an fMRI experiment that investigated the neural activity underlying the processing of materials through echolocation. … a whole brain analysis, in which we isolated the processing of just the reflected echoes, revealed a material-related increase in BOLD activation in a region of left parahippocampal cortex in the echolocating participants, but not in the blind or sighted control participants. Our results, in combination with previous findings about brain areas involved in material processing, are consistent with the idea that material processing by means of echolocation relies on a multi-modal material processing area in parahippocampal cortex.”
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Prof. Mel Goodale Presents
DISCOVERING THE SUBTLETIES IN HUMAN ECHOLOCATION
There are fascinating updated results from the study that WAFTB President and Lead Visioneer Daniel Kish has been co-authoring with Dr. Lore Thaler and others via Durham University in Great Britain. They may not be that surprising to Daniel and other blind people that we’ve taught our FlashSonar specialized form of echolocation to.
Daniel and some of our Instructor Visioneers have been working with Dr. Thaler on echolocation studies for a number of years, including her originating work as part of the team under the guidance of Distinguished Professor Melvyn A. Goodale at Western University in Canada.
The results of their latest work have been published in the Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences. The Royal Society is a fellowship of many of the world’s most eminent scientists and is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence.
Quoting from the Abstract of the latest study results, “In bats it has been shown that they adjust their emissions to situational demands. Here we report similar findings for human echolocation. We asked eight blind expert echolocators to detect reflectors positioned at various azimuth angles.
Our results are, to our knowledge, the first to show that human echolocation experts adjust their emissions to improve sensory sampling. An implication from our findings is that human echolocators accumulate information from multiple samples.”
You can read more detail from the abstract on its page at the Royal Society Website.
The research is providing further validation of the pioneering work Daniel Kish has been doing for decades in teaching his specialized form of echolocation – FlashSonar™ – to blind people of all ages all around the world.
Visioneers | Coverage of this topic in the Media
CGTN AMERICA: FULL FRAME: CLICKING A PATH
CGTN: Full Frame: “Echolocation” is a technique used by some blind people to navigate their world. The technique involves producing “clicking” noises with the tongue that bounce off objects in the environment and helps the visually-impaired create a mental image of where these objects are located. It’s the same “sonar” technique that is used in nature by bats, dolphins and porpoises to navigate a path.
A new study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, found that blind people who have mastered echolocation can identify objects with a high rate of accuracy by listening for echoes of their mouth clicks and that they subconsciously make subtle changes to their clicking patterns depending on the object’s location.
Full Frame’s Sandra Hughes spent the day with Brian Bushway, a perceptual navigation instructor with World Access for the Blind, and his young echolocation trainee as they “sonified” the world around them:
BBC NEWS: Science & Environment
A study has revealed secrets that help some blind people navigate their world by “seeing with sound”.
People who use “echolocation” employ it in a very similar way to bats – producing clicks that bounce off objects and “sonify” them into a picture of the surroundings.
A study of experts in the technique has revealed how louder clicks allow “echolocators” to see behind them. The insights are published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.
Read more at: BBC NEWS: Science and Environment
Most people who are born blind are highly sensitive to the acoustics of their environment – using the echoes that bounce of objects, walls and buildings to navigate and avoid collisions.
However, in recent years there has been a growing awareness of the ability of some blind individuals to use mouth clicks to actively echolocate.
Lore Thaler, who led the work at Durham University, said: “From a scientific perspective, it’s firmly established that people can do this.”
Read more at TheGuardian.com
Specifically, the researchers wanted to find out how echolocators adjust their clicks in response to variations in their surroundings to create complex “mental maps”.
To this end, they enlisted eight blind expert echolocators to have their abilities put to the test.
“Just from walking around with people who echolocate, I know anecdotally that this is a very flexible behaviour – so sometimes they are soft, sometimes louder,” Dr Thaler told The Independent.
Read more at Independent.co.uk
LONDON, March 1 (Xinhua) — A study of Durham University in Britain has found the skill of echolocation can help blind people navigate by “seeing with sound” just like bats.
The insights were published in the British Royal Society journal Proceedings B. They confirmed that people can identify objects with a high rate of accuracy by listening to echoes of mouth clicks.
“Everyone’s clicks are different,” explained Daniel Kish, a co-author on this study.
Read more at: XINZHUANET.com | www.news.cn
A blind woman stands facing the front of the room. Directly behind her, about three feet away is a pole with a wooden disc about the size of a coffee saucer.
The woman doesn’t know it’s there. She begins making clicking sounds with her mouth, modulating the volume and then stopping after about four seconds.
“Yes,” she says. Using only her mouth clicks, she has correctly determined the presence of the disc.
Read more at: Seeker.com
Human echolocation reached the world stage in 2015, after Daniel Kish, an expert in human echolocation who has been blind since he was an infant, discussed the technique in a TED talk that went viral (it has over 1.2 million views).
A new paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, builds on Kish’s talk, providing evidence that he isn’t alone in his capabilities.
Kish is one of five co-authors with Dr. Lore Thaler and it’s a game-changer for people who are blind.
Read more at Inverse.com
Visioneers | Previous Coverage of this topic
ASSIGNMENT DURHAM: STUDY RESULTS
‘Seeing with Sound’ Study Chronicles the Science of Human Echolocation’
World Access For The Blind has been proud to be a research partner with Durham University in the U.K. as one of the many Academic Research programs we participate in with Dr. Lore Thaler. Read more at our Facebook Page.
“SEEING WTH SOUND” STUDY ARTICLE
WAFTB Editor’s Note: The article mentions that we can familiarize ourselves with and sketch an unfamiliar room, but fails to mention more complex outdoor environments where we can do the same. ‘This Is How Some Blind People Are Able To Echolocate Like Bats’ By Clare Wilson.
Read more at our Facebook Page.
Visioneers | Archive of Research Partnerships
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