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Medicine Idle

You, Too, Can Learn Echolocation 133

The Narrative Fallacy writes "Wired reports that with just a few weeks of training, you can learn to 'see' objects in the dark using echolocation the same way dolphins and bats do. Acoustic expert Juan Antonio Martinez at the University of Alcalá de Henares in Spain has developed a system to teach people how to use echolocation, a skill that could be particularly useful for the blind and for people who work under dark or smoky conditions, like firefighters — or cat burglars. 'Two hours per day for a couple of weeks are enough to distinguish whether you have an object in front of you,' says Martinez. 'Within another couple weeks you can tell the difference between trees and pavement.' To master the art of echolocation, you can begin by making the typical 'sh' sound used to make someone be quiet. Moving a pen in front of the mouth can be noticed right away similar to the phenomenon when traveling in a car with the windows down, which makes it possible to 'hear' gaps in the verge of the road. The next level is to learn how to master 'palate clicks,' special clicks with your tongue and palate that are better than other sounds because they can be made in a uniform way, work at a lower intensity, and don't get drowned out by ambient noise. With the palate click you can learn to recognize slight changes in the way the clicks sound depending on what objects are nearby. 'For all of us in general, this would be a new way of perceiving the world,' says Martinez."
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You, Too, Can Learn Echolocation

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  • innate? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 04, 2009 @09:09PM (#28583711)

    I noticed I unconsciouly tongue-click when looking for stuff. Shrug.

    "Now where did I put it <click> <click> <click>"

  • I am a firefighter (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 04, 2009 @09:37PM (#28583803) insensitive clod. ...and one can't hear much in a working structure fire other than one's SCBA, the sounds of the fire, and your buddy on the hoseline.

    Which is why we have flashlights and IR cameras mounted on our helmets.

    Echolocation can be learned, just not applied in every low-light environment.

  • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @09:41PM (#28583811)
    ... or he would echolocate the dog, and nothing else. When she hears "ssh" noises, she starts barking defensively to scare off intruders. (The hissy reptilian character of "ssh" probably doesn't help in general.)

    So if I had anything to add here, it would be: if it's possible at all that You, Too, Can Learn Echolocation, it's certainly not going to be possible within earshot of my stupid dog.
  • Done that myself (Score:5, Interesting)

    by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @09:41PM (#28583813) Homepage

    While I am not sure I could pull off flying at night, I know I could easily use it to avoid walking into walls at night... I've done it. It's far from a big deal. The method of sound generation I used was snapping my fingers, though, and not clicking my mouth which I think would confuse my ears even more since my mouth is connected to my ears. But repeatedly snapping my fingers around my head while stepping forward allowed me to appreciate the changes in acoustics well enough to know where walls and other large objects were. On the other hand, it's not quite good enough to avoid stepping on toys left out by my two year old.

    The picture we get from such a technique is no picture at all. To create a picture, we would need a dense array of ears of great sensitivity not unlike a retina. At best you can sense that something is there and perhaps how solid it may be. After all, a curtain would mask echoes while walls do a nice job of bouncing the signals.

    Still, I am quite certain that blind people already do this without thinking about it. While they may not intentionally send out "pings" in the form of clicks or snaps, they quite likely hear other signals such as the brush of their feet on the carpet, the knock of their feet on the floor or even the rustling of their clothes or the sound of the air flowing from the HVAC system. All of these things generate enough noise signal the allow the notice of the change of acoustic feedback as one to detect changes in the surroundings.

  • Blind Wille McTell (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LD HL,4000h ( 824820 ) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @10:00PM (#28583867)
    I remember reading a while ago that Delta Blues musician Blind Willie McTell [] could do this, I always assumed that it was just another weird blues legend, but I'm absolutely stunned to find that it might have been true.
    Maybe Robert Johnson really did sell his soul to the Devil.
  • Re:No duh (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Antidamage ( 1506489 ) * on Saturday July 04, 2009 @10:30PM (#28584001) Homepage

    Right. On top of that, the magic bean we traded it all for - the internet - isn't even real. You can't hug an internet. We're fucked.

  • Ben Underwood (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 04, 2009 @10:33PM (#28584013)

    Who was blind had a documentary about him (before he passed,MHRIP) called

    Extraordinary People - The boy who sees without eyes []

    truly amazing, but then is it ? he learned this from an early age and didnt think it was anything special same as most of us take seeing light reflected off objects for granted

    Iam more in awe of programmers who are blind (like this guy [], now that takes a special kind of mind.

  • Re:Ben Underwood (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @11:13PM (#28584149) Homepage Journal
    My mother used to teach children who are both deaf and blind. They used taxies quite a bit to move children between home and school. One day the taxi driver got the destination totally wrong. The child knew straight away they were going the wrong way and tried to tell the driver but unfortunately the driver assumed he knew better and kept going.

    Without sight and hearing you still have a lot of input from your senses. Your skin can detect photons (nice and warm sitting here in the sun) and vibration (haptic feedback, etc). One trick my mother used with her students was to press an inflated balloon to the child's skin, then to expose it to sound. The balloon makes it easier to couple the sound source to the skin. That way you can use sign language to help the child understand the sounds and vibrations they experience.
  • Re:No duh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <> on Sunday July 05, 2009 @03:28AM (#28584971) Homepage Journal

        I've navigated my entire house in pitch blackness. Ever tried to find a flashlight when the power goes out, it's pouring rain outside, at night (no stars, moon, or other ambient light)? Footsteps on wood floors are interesting, even without shoes. I remembered most of my environment, but could hear if I was going to miss a doorway by a few inches (or feet). Constant calls from a known location (like, the wife yelling "Did you find a flashlight yet!") helped anchor my distance and relative angle, and added to the echos to hear. Things like couches deadened the echo. I found it easier to close my eyes while I was doing it, even though it didn't matter because I couldn't see anyways.

        Most of the time was environment recognition. I knew something should be at such a distance ahead of me. Not magic, nor echolocation, just the simply knowing my environment. I was pretty good at it, although I did occasionally fall short on things because I was taking smaller steps rather than finding myself face down on the floor because something was out of place.

        I do this every night. The light switch is beside the door. There is no good place to put a lamp beside the bed, and I don't want a nightlight, so I turn off the lights, get undressed, and walk to bed without being able to see anything. I get a good reference of the room before I do it, so I don't have to wonder "Was the computer chair pushed in, or sitting out?"

Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. - Paul Tillich, German theologian and historian