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Human echolocation

July 28, 2009

This has got to be one of the coolest things ever (h/t Vaughan at MindHacks)

Like bats, dolphins, and whales, humans can echolocate. The skill involves implicitly listening to how objects reflect sounds in distinct ways. It helps if the emitted sound is produced by the listener him or herself, but this isn’t necessary. There’s evidence, in fact, that blind individuals can perceive the location of a wall based only on how it reflects the normal, quiet ventilation sounds in a room.

These blind bicycle riders make loud clicks as they’re riding and are able to “see” the trail and objects in their path. I’ve always wondered to what extent one could develop a completely new sense, but according to this scientist, echolocation is something inherent, if not widely implemented utilized.

Echolocation is truly one of your implicit perceptual skills: It allows you to detect aspects of your environment without even knowing which sensory system you’re using. And it could very well be that you’re constantly using the skill to recognize properties of the rooms you occupy.


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