Brain Awareness Week 2014

Watch Mel and Brian's talk

Mel's talk begins at index 18 minutes (1,125 seconds), and Brian's begins at index 65 minutes (3,900 seconds), with joint Q&A to follow.

Mel Goodale, (The Brain and Mind Institute) and Brian Bushway (World Access for the Blind)

From their web site

"I can hear a building over there"

Everybody has heard about echolocation in bats and dolphins. These creatures emit bursts of sounds and listen to the echoes that bounce back to detect objects in their environment. What is less well known is that people can echolocate, too. In fact, there are blind people who have learned to make clicks with their mouth and tongue - and to use the returning echoes from those clicks to sense their surroundings. Some of these people are so adept at echolocation that they can use this skill to go mountain biking, play basketball, or navigate through unfamiliar buildings. In this talk, we will learn about several of these echolocators - some of whom train other blind people to use this amazing skill.

Testing in our laboratory has revealed that, by listening to the echoes, blind echolocation experts can sense remarkably small differences in the location of potential obstacles. They can also perceive the size and shape of objects, and even the material properties of those objects - just by listening to the reflected echoes from mouth clicks. It is clear that echolocation enables blind people to do things that are otherwise thought to be impossible without vision, providing them with a high degree of independence in their daily lives. Using neuroimaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI), we have also shown that the echoes activate brain regions in the blind echolocators that would normally support vision in the sighted brain. In contrast, the brain areas that process auditory information are not particularly interested in these faint echoes. This work is shedding new light on just how plastic the human brain really is.

About Melvyn Goodale:

World's leading visual neuroscientist, Melvyn Goodale, is best known for his research on the human brain as it performs different kinds of visual tasks. Goodale has lea much neuroimaging and psychosocial research that has had an enormous influence in the life sciences and medicine. His "two-visual-systems proposal" is now part of almost every textbook in vision, cognitive neuroscience, and psychology. He is a member of the Royal Society, joining the likes of Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstien and Stephen Hawking.

About Brian Bushway:

Brian is the program manager for World Access for the Blind, a non-profit organization which teaches mobility and sensory awareness orientation. He acts as a mobility coach for the blind and a teacher of sighted mobility instructors on the use of echolocation. He designs and implements perception development plans for each client. When not teaching, Brian offers technical and emotional advice to families. He lost his sight at 14.

For more information about echolocation, see: