Human Echolocation

Nothing entirely new but the most convincing case I’ve seen of someone
who can “see” with echolocation
.  The question for phil mind of course
is whether he has some information about what it is like to be a bat.


  1. gualtiero piccinini

    The article says the spatial resolution of human echolocation is lower than that of bats and dolphins because humans “send out sounds at much slower rates and lower frequencies” than bats and dolphins. It would be interesting to experiment with these subjects and see if they can increase their resolution by using a machine that emits sounds at faster rates and higher frequencies.

  2. I was interested in Kish’s comment that he has “mental images” that aren’t visual but are “complex” and “rich.” It would be worth exploring what he means by that.

  3. The entire family of sensory-substitution devices ranging from visual-to-tactile, visual-to-vribatory, auditory-to-visual (echolocation), visual-to-tongue, and even less known but virtually possible smell-to others sensations and propioception-to visual verticality (visual frame of referene) and also the phenomenon of multisensory procesess (how many sensory modalities contribute to the enrich perception of the eviroment rather than one sensory modality alone) or crossmodal attentional capture (how one sensory modality influences another one), makes explicit that distinct qualitative modalities converge in particular areas of the brain using basic computational principles that speak the same language.

    That cast intriguing questions to those following Levine´s “explanatory gap”, Jackson´s female vision color specialist, Hurley and Nöe´s intermodal and intramodal gap (what it is seeing rather than hearing and what it is see red instead of see blue) processes of cerebral plasticity, stroke recovery, consequences of traumatic brain injury… and of course, if the inner world of non-human animals is similar to our inner world (Nagel)

  4. One question of interest to me is what is the phenomenology of echolocation? What does it feel like? Prior to the 20th century, blind people who used echolocation often claimed that it felt like pressure on the face (and in fact it was often called “facial vision”). And I’ve had blindfolded, sighted subjects report the same thing when they auditorially detect the presence of a wall they’re about to walk into.

    Or is the phenomenology one of hearing? — like the auditory phenomenology of hearing the hugeness or smallness of a room that you step into, or like the auditory phenomenology of hearing a wall by the side of the freeway ending and beginning? Or is it still some third kind of phenomenology? Or does it vary within or between people?

    I was going to do a blog entry on this myself, but you beat me to the punch! I do have an article on it available on my homepage
    for anyone who’s interested in further reflections on the relationship between echolocation and self-knowledge.

  5. anna-mari(at)

    These are fascinating questions. However, the question I find interesting (and this is related to Anibel`s comment as well) is this: Are there any same elements or “constituents” in bat`s “echolocationary” phenomenology and human “echolocationary” phenomenology? What is exactly the sufficient condition for “similar phenomenology” in this case?

    There may be (or may not be) a “deep structure”/deep structures of human phenomenology that is/are related to the information processing structure of the neurocognitive architecture of our (and similar) brains. May be – even in the case of sensory substitution – we are still echolocating humans, phenomenologically and neurocomputationally.

  6. Anna Marie,

    In response to Eddy’s question at least it seems there is some information the boy would have about what it is like to be a bat even if there are differences in the phenomenology of human and bat echolocation. That is, in so far as our vision gives us some information about dog vision, our smell about dog smell etc, then it seems that this gives us some information about what it is like to be a bat.

    I am also interested in what ck said, about what Kish meant by saying he has mental images that are not quite visual. I know that blind subjects are able to follow instructions and draw somewhat complex three dimensional objects (like cups, or a cube balancing on one corner). I wonder if he could try and draw these mental images he experiences, and if he could, what they would look like: what would an echolocated cup look like?

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