Monday, November 09, 2009

The taste of sight

Back in my days as a neuroscientist, I used to particularly love the studies (usually in ferrets) that involved rerouting input from one modality to another -- i.e., directing auditory nerve fibers into the visual cortex to see whether the structures and maps that they made would look more like a visual map or a usual auditory map (see, e.g., this). The experiments told us something about what parts of brain structure are "inherent" versus "induced" (and thus what sorts of cues to look for) -- but we knew nothing about what the ferrets experienced when they were exposed to sound or light stimuli, which is clearly where the visceral interest of such experiments comes from.

thoughtsWas thus very primed to appreciate these new studies with crossing the sensory map, as by giving visual data to an electrode array on the tongue, or allowing novel information (say, the location of magnetic north) to be sensed by the body. Here we get some report of what the experience was like for the subjects, and it's pretty fascinating -- gives one a sense of the plasticity of the human brain and of our experience. I imagine that much of the motivation for the scientists involves coming up with "workarounds" for people with sensory deficits, but I look forward to explorations of the basic science as well, especially for information about where in the brain the new information is processed (e.g., is visual-to-tongue information processed by visual cortex, or by the physical sensation map of the tongue, or somewhere else?)... [I may be an ex-neuroscientist by job description, but never by interest!!]

(via kottke)

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