Seeing with Sound

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Our brains have the ability to determine the shape of an object simply by processing specially-coded sounds. New research not only tells us about the ‘plasticity’of the brain and how it perceives the world, it also offers us new possibilities for aiding the blind.

Researchers posed the question ‘can shape be represented by sound artificially?’ The answer is that quite like dolphins, which use ‘echolocation’ to explore their surroundings, our brains can be trained to recognise shapes represented by sound. Blindfolded subjects were trained to recognise tactile spatial information using sounds mapped from abstract shapes. After this, they were able to match auditory inputs to tactually discerned shapes. “We live in a world where we perceive objects using information from multiple sensory inputs,” says Dr Zatorre, neuroscientist and co-director of the International Laboratory for Brain Music and Sound Research. Neuroimaging studies have identified brain areas that integrate information coming from different senses to create a complete picture.