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2010-08-25
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
NewScientist Magazine recently published a very interesting article on a new gadget called vOICe that the article claims to allow auditory information to be experienced visually, as being useful for blind people. The article is strikingly void of discussion of philosophy of mind considering its apparent relevance. It can be found here:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727731.500-sensory-hijack-rewiring-brains-to-see-with-sound.html

I believe the full article is viewable to non-subscribers, but let me know if you have any trouble.

So does anyone think this has implications for philosophy?

Best regards,
Nathan Jarmie

2010-09-03
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
I don't think the full article is viewable to non-subscribers.
If this is true, then it would make make several counterexamples (in epistemology especially), that are raised using "aliens" who when experience a certain auditory sensation have a visual or olfactory experience, undeniable.  I think Michael Bergmann has a recent paper using one such type of counterexample.  Also, I think Plantinga had something like this as well.

2010-09-03
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
Hi Nathan,

I'm very interested to know the paper, but I haven't been able to see the full article. Could you tell me what can I do.

Best regards,

Jose

2010-09-03
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
Nathan,
Thanks for the head-up.  Looks like a very interesting article.  Unfortunately, I can't gain access to it without a subscription to the magazine.  Can I trouble you to send me the text in a file?  My email address is:  res.cogitans AT gmail DOT com 

If you're very busy at the moment, or it's too much trouble, I would completely understand.

Best,

David

2010-09-06
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
I cannot help you with access to the New Scientist article, but there is quite an extensive web site devoted to this device (which is really not very new - it has been around since at least 1996). I think if you poke about on the site you will find some discussion of certain of the philosophical issues it raises (as the inventor sees things, at least). Personally, I am not sure whether it really raises any significant issues beyond those raised by the sort of visual-tactile systems invented by Bach-y-Rita, which have been around longer, probably are more practical, and which have been had a fair bit of discussion in the philosophical literature already (notably by Noë, in Action in Perception).

Incidentally, surely the thread title is backwards. The vOICe is, in the first place, at least, a device that enables blind people to experience visual information auditorily, i.e., visual information is encoded through the auditory channel (as, in Bach-y-Rita's devices, visual information is encoded through a tactile channel). Bach-y-Rita and Noë (and I think also Meijer, inventor of the vOICe) do claim that for skilled users of these devices the phenomenology of the experience takes on a visual character (which you might characterize as auditory, or tactile, information being experienced visually, I guess), but that, I suppose, is a philosophically disputable point, whereas the fact that the vOICe encodes visual information through (what is normally) a non-visual sensory channel is an uncontroversial fact.

Nigel J.T. Thomas Ph.D.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
WEB SITE: "Imagination, Mental Imagery, Consciousness, and Cognition: Scientific, Philosophical, and Historical Approaches."
http://www.imagery-imagination.com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2010-09-06
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
Having re-explored his labyrinth of a site a bit more, I find that this page is where Meijer claims that his device induces visual mental imagery in its blind users. A version of that page has existed, an has made that claim, since at least the late 1990s, when I became aware of his work after he contacted me about it, having found out about my interest in imagery from my site (below).

Nigel J.T. Thomas Ph.D.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
WEB SITE: "Imagination, Mental Imagery, Consciousness, and Cognition: Scientific, Philosophical, and Historical Approaches."
http://www.imagery-imagination.com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2010-09-06
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
Might I draw attention to an early article of mine that dealt at some length with the audio/visual interchange?  It is 

Wright, Edmond, ‘More qualia trouble for functionalism:  J. R. Smythies’ TV-Hood Analogy’, 

Synthese, 

97,

No. 3 (1993), 1-18.

   

 


2010-09-06
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Ack! It is subscription-only. I'm quite sorry. I had logged out to test this, but due to some kind of lag in the website I guess, the full article was still there just after I had been logged out.
I don't feel so great about giving away the article if NewScientist doesn't intend it to be free, so instead I'll just paraphrase the interesting part:

Many long-term user of vOICe, such as Claire Cheskin, report that it gives them visual experience that is comparable to a low-fi black and white film. It is enough to spot far-off landmarks and recognize objects such as coffee cups.


More evidence that it is indeed visual experience that is being experienced is that users report that it is accompanied with a strong sense of space.


The vOICe is constantly playing sounds for the user though a headset (something that would be quite annoying, I imagine).



Michael Proulx (Queen Mary, U of London) affirms that he believes what these patients are describing is qualitatively similar to visual experience.


There is some vague discussion of neuroscience, but nothing that would be of much concern to philosophers I think.


I'm sure google can provide some information too, the vOICe website for instance. If anyone has any specific questions, ask and I'll see if something is mentioned in the article.


Best,
Nathan



2010-09-06
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
Here are two recent articles that discuss some of the potential philosophical implications of 'The vOICe' as an auditory-to-visual substitution device: 


Auvray, M., Hanneton, S.,&O'Regan, J.K. (2007). Learning to perceive with a visuo-auditory substitution system: Localisation and object recognition with 'The vOICe.'. Perception, 36(3), 416-430.

Auvray, M. & E. Myin. (2009). Perception with compensatory devices: from sensory substitution to sensorimotor extension. Cognitive Science, 33(6), 1036.
http://www.nstu.net/malika-auvray/files/malika-auvray-auvray_myin_cogs_2009.pdf


Additionally, it is worth noting that there has been a great deal of philosophical discussion concerning the implications of Bach-y-Rita's (1972) Tactile-Vision Substitution System (TVSS), especially by advocates and critics of enactive or sensorimotor theories of perceptual experience.


Mike



2010-09-06
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
Hi Nigel and all,

Thank you for your interest. I wish to make clear that I do not claim that The vOICe yields visual experiences. It is some of its experienced late-blind users that do that. See also the recent paper with Jamie ward in Consciousness and Cognition (J. Ward and P. Meijer, "Visual Experiences in the Blind induced by an Auditory Sensory Substitution Device," Consciousness and Cognition, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 492-500, March 2010, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2009.10.006), and the commentary of Michael Proulx on this paper ("Synthetic synaesthesia and sensory substitution", http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2009.12.005).

One can measure neural correlates of subjectively reported experiences, but not the (modality or type of) experiences themselves. This is a key philosophical and practical issue. I believe that one can at best make a strong case from user statistics: if, say, 80+ percent of the experienced late-blind users insist that they have "truly visual" experiences from The vOICe (using their memories of natural eyesight as a reference), with sensations of light and all that, that makes a case. I have tried to state this most clearly in the abstract of my presentation at the Tucson 2002 conference "Toward a Science of Consciousness", for instance stating

> So we may indeed need to resort to (third-person statistics of) first-person accounts
> of subjective experiences in order to answer questions relating to important qualia,
> as in asking "Is it vision?", or perhaps rather asking "Does it 'feel' like vision?",
> or asking to what extent it is like normal vision, to what extent it is like hearing,
> and to what extent it is like neither.

You can find the abstract at http://www.seeingwithsound.com/tucson2002.html

On top of that, recent neuroscience research (only) adds to the credibility by showing neural correlates with brain activity in V1 etc that resemble the types of brain activity of a sighted person with a visual task or stimulus. Indeed we do find V1 (primary visual cortex) activity in blind users of The vOICe in response to its sounds, but have to remain careful because V1 is also commonly activated by auditory and tactile stimuli in early blind people, with whom V1 is apparently recruited for other processing (and no visual experiences are reported there). We also found that a brain area named LOtv, normally activated in shape discrimination through vision or touch, gets activated in trained users of The vOICe (Nature Neuroscience, Vol. 10, No. 6, pp. 687 - 689, June 2007, "Shape conveyed by visual-to-auditory sensory substitution activates the lateral occipital complex", http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn1912). LOtv activation occurs for image sounds from The vOICe (which encodes visual shape information) but not for other sounds such as a barking dog or the sounds of scrambled images. More recently, we found that temporarily disrupting V1 processing with rTMS (magnetic stimulation) interfered with the ability to interpret soundscapes, and was associated with subjectively reported loss of "vision" in an experienced blind user of The vOICe ("Functional recruitment of visual cortex for sound encoded object identification in the blind," Neuroreport, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 132-138, January 2009, http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/WNR.0b013e32832104dc, and some CBC video footage in "The Nature of Things" http://www.seeingwithsound.com/cbc2008.html).

Now we simply do not have sufficiently large numbers of experienced blind users of The vOICe yet to make the above-mentioned statistical case, but the available evidence at this point still seems supportive of finding visual experiences in experienced late-blind users of The vOICe. I hope this makes clear that I do not claim that The vOICe yields visual experiences, but there is supportive material.

Best regards,

Peter Meijer


Seeing with Sound - The vOICe
http://www.seeingwithsound.com


P.S. Jose and David, the original article in the New Scientist, "Sensory hijack: rewiring brains to see with sound", now requires a subscription to access, but there have been some copies of the text floating around, for instance at http://patrickmillard.com/blog/?p=1008


2010-09-06
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nigel Thomas
Have been in touch with the editor of the site Peter Meijer, and it appears that a lot depends upon when the individual became blind.
  Late blind people appear to benefit more and be able to do what is claimed in the article. This suggests a complex of feed forward and backward neural processing routes associated with memory and the (rapid) stitching together of long and short term memories in creating consciousness.
  

2010-09-09
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
Thanks Nathan

This web site links to some background scholarship prior to the New Scientist article

http://www.seeingwithsound.com/voicefr1.htm

I take the example as  supporting evidence for Clark and Chalmers' extended mind (1998), as the devise can be seen as a constitutive element of the cognitive processes of object identification.

however, I was first struck by  the title: what does it mean that "auditory information is experienced visually"? Do the the sound waves I see represented on a computer screen count here as "auditory information experienced visually"? I mean, when I see the sound waves represented on the screen, I'm experiencing sound information visually, don't I? similarly,  it is known that sonar operators in submarines develop a way to understand the echo as representations of the sea surface. Does this count as auditory information "experienced" visually? what does it mean "experienced"?

Cheers

Gus





2010-09-11
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
Nigel and Gus,

Hi. Yes, the title is probably not quite right. I suppose what the device "allows" is vague: what the vOICe itself does should be distinguished from what the minds of long-term users may do. These users  (it's supposed) somehow make a shift from experiencing visual information as sound to doing so as vision. What the vOICe itself does is less interesting. There shouldn't be anything to do with auditory information; the information about the sounds the vOICe makes is more or less irrelevant.

It's been around since 1996? Well, make that two things that are wrong with the thread title.

Cheers,
Nathan Jarmie

2010-09-26
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727790.300-philosophical-sense.html

2010-09-28
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
In reply to Peter Reynold's letter to New Scientist:

1. "The idea that the senses are distinct" may perhaps be a widely held assumption (amongst regular people, psychologists, and, I dare say, philosophers too), but in no way is it "one of the cornerstones of philosophical inquiry." If it is refuted (and the results reported are far from the first to suggest that it may not be true), although some views held by some philosophers on some topics might need to be revised, the enterprise of philosophy will not collapse, or be in any way structurally threatened. (Philosophers may not need to be told this, but some readers of New Scientist well may.)

2. As to Gorgias, the argument quoted purports to "prove" that no knowledge gained through vision can be communicated by speech: "speech cannot give any information about perceptibles." This conclusion is clearly absurd, which is probably why Gorgias has traditionally been regarded as a sophist rather than as a true philosopher, and why the argument is probably best regarded not as a serious philosophical attempt to deepen our understanding of the world, but as, on the one hand, a satire on serious philosophical argumentation, and, on the other, an advertisement for Gorgias' own argumentative skills. (As a sophist, he made his living by providing instruction in the skill of making a convincing sounding argument for any desired conclusion, regardless of its truth.) The Platonic distinction between philosophers and sophists may not be a very helpful one in most contexts, but when claims are being made about the "cornerstones" of philosophy, I think it has some relevance.

2010-10-17
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie

This link may be of relevance.
http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=deaf-cats-have-enhanced-vision-10-10-11&posted=1#comments


2010-10-17
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
This is subject of the BBC tv  'Horizon' -  on monday - 'Seeing With Sound'.

2010-10-17
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Sorry - that should be 'Is Seeing Believing?'

2011-04-11
New device for blind people allows auditory information to be experienced visually
Reply to Nathan Jarmie
Ah philosophy. Someone creates a device to help people with a particular disability and our first thought is - haven't they thought about the implications for the study of the highly relevant and important everyday issue of qualia!!!