~e; RGB & the mind's_eye

From bc <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Fri, 12 Apr 2002 10:35:14 -0500

[a lot going on these days, yet this seems a mystery up there
with gravity and GUT theories of the universe. thatis, the brain/
mind, its mapping, by sentience and outside observers. for some
reason, music or sound, and sight, always connected. for someone
with little/no acoustic understanding, more of a confusion, the
one explanation of this connection that has always made sense (not
of the synesthesic perspect) is that an animal (mammal, bird, fish,
whatever it is) can sense, and thus 'see', non-visually. such as
an electric eel, it has some polalized field of electricity, or
some fish does, by which it can locate things around it, or a
bat using sound to see, as with radar, but human's artificial
radar makes the sound visual in the computer screen. location,
too, as to shut the eyes, with ones ears listening, one can locate
a sound in space, have heard this is 'triangulation, but thought
it needed somemore more than stereo, unless the sound is the 3rd
node (not so with GPS, it seems, though). the following article,
and musicians and soundsculptors and scientists and acoustic-
researchers who explore this fascinating subject are of great
interest for those who find sound so enigmatic yet clear...]

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 From Wired News, available online at:

Red, Blue, Green and Other Sounds  
By Mark K. Anderson  

2:00 a.m. April 12, 2002 PDT 

TUCSON, Arizona -- Scientists may know an encyclopedia's worth about
the mechanics of vision but they still can't explain how all those neurons
firing give people their qualitative sense of sight. They can't even describe
"red" to someone who hasn't experienced it before.  

In an effort to better understand the mystery of visual awareness,
several scientists this week announced new science and technology that radically
alters a subject's sense of vision. 

One involves "seeing" with sound; the other involves "seeing" with the
region of the brain that processes sound. Both offer stunning new testimony to
the brain's enormous adaptability -- even in handling strange new phenomena
beyond the bounds of evolution's design.  

At this week's Toward a Science of Consciousness Conference in Tucson,
Peter Meijer of Philips Laboratories presented his work on using sound to help
the blind to see. His "Voice" technology uses a webcam mounted on a subject's
head to scan one's field of view from left to right, and convert height into
pitch and brightness into loudness.  

To the uninitiated, the resulting bleepy "soundscape" sounds like
nothing so much as a Kraftwerk outtake. Yet these blips and hisses have given a
rudimentary sense of sight to several blind subjects who have grown to love
their new Voice.  

"One day I was sewing and listening to the television," said Voice
user Pat Fletcher. "And I looked up and realized I could see across the plane of
my bed. The edge was sharply defined, and beyond the edge rose the box of my
television, and behind that the blinds on my wall.  

"I was crying and laughing so much when I saw those blinds, I only
wish Peter was there."  

Fletcher, who was blinded in an industrial accident in 1979, says she
can now interpret Voice's sounds to reconstruct full images of many of the
objects around her -- except for objects that came of age after her accident.
(Her computer is both her lifeline and a stick-figure box whose detailed image
she can only guess at.)  

She now even dreams in soundscapes, she said.  

Fletcher's case is evidence that the visual cortex -- the region of
the brain that processes sight -- remains alive and active even in blind people,
said Paul Bach-y-Rita of the University of Wisconsin.  

"Those cells don't die," he said. "The visual cortex is not
exclusively limited to visual input."  

Mriganka Sur of MIT spoke of experiments he's been working on where he
crosses the brain's channels and forces one region to process input that should
have gone somewhere else. In a population of ferrets, he wired the signal from
the animal's eyes into its audio cortex.  

Surprisingly, he found that this part of the brain, which processes
signals from the ear, adapted to the new wiring. It still provided the ferret
with vision, albeit of lower resolution.  

"There is nothing intrinsically visual about the visual cortex," he

Alva Noe of the University of California, Santa Cruz examined how in
some cases the cortex defers to its new input. But in others, the cortex refuses
to let go of its old assignment.  

One example of the latter is a phenomenon called the "phantom limb" --
where amputees find that their brain has partly reassigned its neural channels
to compensate for a lost body part.  

So although cortical region X once processed nerve signals from the
amputated limb, region X now handles input from the face. However, when region
X's section of the face is touched, some report feeling the touch on their
missing limb instead.  

Still, such instances of a brain region dominating rather than
deferring to its new assignment are comparatively rare.  

"The healthy, integrated brain is a deferential brain," Noe said.   

Copyright (C) 1994-2002 Wired Digital Inc. All rights reserved. 

[fair-use, EM .edu purposes, ~e.org 2oo2]

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