Submitted by Fred Cummins on Fri, 03/13/2009 - 13:40.
The brain is plastic. It is also extremely good at making sense of the world based on constantly changing sensory inputs. We are accustomed to thinking of the process of perception as starting wth modality specific information which is combined to generate an amodal, inclusive, perception of the world around us. This is an old, information-processing, view of perception. But perception is not of images and sounds, it is of trees and clouds - it is of the world, and not of sensations. It is also active, whereby changes in stimulation at the sensory surface bear a meaningful relation to both the properties of the world, and the actions of our selves. (Much of the work in ecological psychology aims at elucidationg precisely this lawful relation.)
Once we realize that perception is of the world, and not of representations, we can begin to understand how it is that alternative, nove, sensory inputs can be used to uncover the world. Work in sensory substitution started in the 1960's by Paul Bacy-y-Rita, who used a crude square array of tactile stimulators to pass on visual information to a patch of skin, typically on the chest or back of the wearer.
More recent work has sought to exploit the sensitivity of the tongue in a similar manner. You can find a popular presentation here, but do not be content with the story being told there, as it misses the importance of self-generated motion in perception completely. We will be discussion sensory substitution and active perception in class.
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