1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

The Blind Leading the Blind: The Discovery of Human Echolocation


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  • Reception follows in Brooks Hall Commons

Psychological research in the mid-twentieth century revealed that humans, especially the blind, could use echolocation to perceive their surroundings; however, the potential for active sonar in humans was not widely recognized or discussed until the 2000s when blind echolocators, especially the late Ben Underwood and activist Daniel Kish, captured public attention. This presentation explores the neuroanthropology of sensory discovery and refinement, using extended conversations with Kish, the founder and president of World Access for the Blind, to chart several ways in which sensory enskilment in active echolocation — or what Kish calls “flash sonar” — demonstrates the complex relationship between biological capacity, neurological endowment, and cultural regimes of training. Sensory enculturation demonstrates the fact that cultural influences through development, behavior, and adaptation extend into primary sensory processes, affecting perception prior to “interpretation.”

Event Date: 
Monday, 8 December 2014 - 1:00pm to 3:00pm
Speaker: 
Greg Downey
Speaker Title: 
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Macquarie University