EyeMusic brings music to our eyes
Amir Amedi, a neurologist at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is certainly happy about his team’s recent breakthroughs, but that’s not why he was doodling on a notepad during a recent interview.
He was trying to demonstrate how his work could revolutionize the way neurologists understand the human brain, explaining how blind people really can see — by using sound, which, according to Amedi, can be processed by the brain’s “visual” area.
That’s where the smiley face came in.
Sitting in the lounge of the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel in Beverly Hills, he drew two dots for eyes, and, as he drew the smile, made sounds that corresponded with each part he was drawing.
“Dee-da-da” — high to low.
“Da-dee-dee” — low to high.
“See?” Amedi said. “That’s a smile.”
He was no longer referring to his drawing, but to the sounds he was making, dipping and rising with the inverted arc to create an aural version of a smile. No vision required.
Regardless of whether they can see, the ability of all humans to understand the language of sound as representing visual objects is evidence, Amedi said, that the brain is not a “sensory machine” in which a functioning visual cortex depends on eyes that work. Instead, he called it a “task machine,” meaning that even when there is no eyesight, the visual cortex is still useful.
In Los Angeles in April, on a short trip sponsored by American Friends of The Hebrew University, Amedi said one proof of this is that when blind people, including those who could not see from an early age, perform nonvisual tasks, such as reading Braille or hearing sounds, the activity in the part of their brains reserved for processing visual information nearly matches that of sighted people performing visual activities.
“This is very radical,” Amedi said excitedly. “If you train them to read using touch with Braille, they recruit the same visual system [the visual cortex].”
As Amedi put it, we may eventually no longer understand the visual cortex as purely visual, but rather as a part of the brain that can convey stimuli, like sounds, into words and shapes and forms.