Sunday, August 31, 2008

Zen of Blind Art (Seeing Sound)

New scientific discovery: Humans can see sound (story below).

The book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (overview) by Robert Pirsig holds out as one of its central premises that it is possible to flow effortlessly, to become natural and childlike (Zen mind/Beginner's mind) in every action. Zen, in terms of the art of archery, speaks of the possibility of developing enough skill to hit a bulls-eye in the dark.

Is it literally possible to "flow" and "feel" one's way in the dark -- or is it only a metaphor? The following artist (blind from birth) is turning brain science on its head, suggesting that Zen was being literally all along. And a new neuroscience study seems to confirm it.

Turkey's Esref Armagan is a blind painter who does the impossible.

Scientists Say We Can See Sound
Robin Nixon (LiveScience, 8/18/08)

Your brain's visual system can be employed to hear, according to a study of monkeys. Scientists figure this might be one reason blind people develop keen hearing. (Image credit: Dreamstime)

Turning conventional neuroscience on its head, new research suggests the human visual system processes sound and helps us see.

Here are the basics of what was Neuroscience 101: The auditory system records sound, while the visual system focuses on visuals, and never do they meet. Instead, a "higher cognitive" producer, like the brain's superior colliculus, uses these separate inputs to create our cinematic experiences.

The textbook rewrite: The brain can, if it must, directly use sound to see and light to hear. The study was published last week in the journal BMC Neuroscience. More >>

Extra-sensory power?
The discovery is likely un-related to the rare experience of synesthesia, a bizarre condition experienced by a few people who can feel, hear and taste colors. In synesthesia, for example, more complicated sensations combine at later stages of brain processing, so that just the mention of a color, a letter, or a shape can automatically trigger the perception of a certain note.

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