Monday, July 13, 2009

Human echolocation

Did you know that any human can learn to "see" by using sounds alone?

During my seven years at the World Bird Sanctuary, I worked very closely with owls . . . including my favorite, the barn owl. Of the many fascinating adaptations possessed by barn owls, one of the most intriguing is the accuracy of their ability to find a mouse at a distance using sound alone.

Of course, many mammals have evolved mechanisms to use sounds to navigate their worlds by echolocation . . . making sounds that bounce off surfaces and are then analyzed to map out nearby objects.

It turns out that we humans have an incredible, although seldom used, ability to navigate our world by echolocation. Not just blind individuals or carnival freaks . . . anybody can learn how to echolocate! Really . . . would I make up something like that?!

So when we're listing the functions of the ear, I'm thinking maybe we better expand our list . . . at least adding echolocation as a "possible" function for hearing.

Don't believe me? Check these out . . .
Humans Can Learn to "See" With Sound, Study Says
Kate Ravilious
National Geographic News July 6, 2009
[Summarizes the recent research]

Physical Analysis of Several Organic Signals for Human Echolocation: Oral Vacuum Pulses

Rojas, Juan Antonio Martínez et al.
Acta Acustica united with Acustica, Volume 95, Number 2, March/April 2009 , pp. 325-330(6)

[FREE abstract of the original research report (first in a series)]
FYI . . .

On a related note, I've worn a beard continuously (except during two plays in which I performed) for over 30 years . . . so that I can use my whiskers to navigate like cats do. I haven't yet mastered the skill . . . but I'm still working on it.

{The image that appears in the original blog post features Ben Underwood, a blind individual who uses echolocation to navigate. Photo from}


Anonymous said...

At any rate, I liked some of the NIH cartoons on VADLO search engine!

Kevin Patton said...

Thanks, Regis! Here's one I like

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