Thursday, February 27, 2014

Human Echolocation: A Story of Hidden Senses

By Martin Clemens | Mysterious Universe 

How many senses do you have? Five? Sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing? Sure, but what would you say if I told you that you have far more than just those five? You might be thinking something like PSI or ESP or some kind of intangible mental power accounts for our sixth sense, and while I won’t deny that as a possibility, that isn’t what I’m talking about.

Your body is literally filled with sense organs. Biological machines that each serve a purpose related to keeping you going strong, and making sure you know what’s happening around you. I don’t mean for this to devolve into a refresher course on human physiology, but suffice it to say, we’re chock-full of little bits that work to tell us what’s going on inside and outside our bodies.

For example, if you close your eyes, can you still touch your finger to your nose? (Assuming you have both a finger and a nose) This may be so simple that you don’t see how amazing it is right away, but…how do you know, with your eyes closed, where your nose is relative to your finger?

If you were a robot, that manoeuver wouldn’t be so simple to accomplish. It would require precise programming detailing exactly where the nose is spatially, relative to the finger. The robot would need to know how to get from point A to point B, and it would need to know exactly where and when to stop.

Well, you need to know all that too, and when your eyes are open, it’s easy enough to figure it all out just by noticing that your finger is on your hand, and your nose is, strangely enough, in the middle of your face. From there, it’s just a simple matter of neural-muscular contractions and fine motor skills, and voila, you’ve introduced one of your digits to your honker.

But when your eyes are closed, it’s another matter entirely, and if you’ll indulge, it involves what sense exactly? Spatial reasoning, of course. You might argue that this isn’t a sense, and whichever one of us is right, we can hardly deny that some kind of sensory process is involved, one that isn’t listed in the classical five.


Just like Marvel’s Daredevil, there’s a man in California who can create a picture of his immediate environment in his mind, just by making clicking sounds and hearing when and how they come back to his ears.

This is a skill many blind people possess and is something that can be learned by anyone, with practise, but Daniel (Batman) Kish, President of the non-profit organization World Access for the Blind is a real life comic book hero with his astounding echolocation ability. Human echolocation is relatively common, but rudimentary in most examples. People generate sounds, by clicking with their tongue, or striking their canes on the ground, or stomping their feet, and this gives them a general idea of where things are around them, such as walls, doorways and furniture.

Kish, who is considered an echolocation expert, is able to generate an incredibly accurate picture of his environment by producing clicks with his mouth, but his perception of the information he gleans through that process is far above the ability of most other people, and approaches the fantastic description found in the Daredevil comic books.

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