Human Echolocation – Seeing With Your Ears

By Anupum Pant

Bats can see, but Daniel Kish can’t. Due to Retinal Cancer (Retinoblastoma),┬áDaniel has been completely blind since the age of 13 months. To save his life, both his eyes had to be removed at a young age. But, even with no eyes, he can see. He sees with his ears. People call him the real-life batman.

What? When Daniel was young, he started making a clicking sound with his tongue to understand his environment. Little did he know, at a young age, he had mastered Echolocation – A technique used by dolphins, and bats to navigate when there is no light. At the age of 11, only when a friend told him about Echolocation, did he realize what he was really doing.

How? By listening to the reflected clicking sound, Daniel is able to map the shape, dimension, depth and density of objects in his brain. Like we use light to see, he uses sound to create a 3D map in his brain. He has trained his visual cortex to process non-visual information. With this ability he is able to ride a bicycle around, effortlessly. Think about riding with your eyes closed. He does it everyday.

According to him, what he does isn’t rocket science. He thinks every one, if trained well, can do it. With a concern for blind people around the world who aren’t encouraged to use echolocation to move around, he started an organization where he teaches people how to do it. You can watch his TED talk here. [video]

Side note: In a Tamil movie, Taandavam, he was the one who taught Shiva to move around using echolocation.

If you think Daniel’s ability doesn’t talk enough about the amazing human brain. This video of David Eagleman talking about how our brain perceives the world, will probably make you appreciate it [the brain] more. Watch it till the end where he talks about these plug-in-brain devices.
In short, brain can learn to interpret various kinds of signals to produce an image.

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