Good morning all,
We recently considered bat echolocation as a model for sensory coevolution. During our discussions, we noted that many animals have sensory capabilities outside of the range of humans.
How about humans who can perform echolocation?
There are a small number (few dozen) people in the world who have developed some level of proficiency at echolocation for navigation. Daniel Kish is the most famous person with these abilities (but there are others):
In all of these cases, the ability came about after a loss of vision. Our human visual cortices make up a huge part of our brains, and once they are freed from visual responsibilities, it seems that they can be co-opted (at least in part) for other uses. This neural flexibility is well-known, as it is the basis for the recovery that is possible from brain trauma, including stroke. Blind persons who read Braille are known to have some expanded touch sensitivity in visual areas of the brain, and sensory re-mapping is known to occur in persons with high-levels of musical training, or in new mothers nursing infants. Still, the development of echolocation as a sensory capability is quite different, in that it adds to the human sensory repertoire, not simply expands upon an existing sense.
There are lots of interesting articles about human echolocation, including:
Next time you find yourself in a dark room, you might be tempted to give it a try! I think that I will stay close to the light switch...
Have a great weekend -