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Is it brain plasticity, or what?

Dear List,

Yesterday I received the following intriguing report from a totally
blind user of The vOICe auditory display, and I wonder what your
interpretation as auditory experts and brain researchers would be
on this:

> Two observations I do want to share with you.  First as I said I wear the
> program daily.  Well the other day I was again washing dishes.  I had let
> the water out of the sink and turn to get a towel to dry my hands.  Then
> when I turn back to rinse the sink I was stunned to see the sink in a "
> depth" like image.  I stepped  away from the sink and walked slowly up to
> it again to see if my mind was playing tricks on me. No the feeling of
> seeing depth in the sink bowl was still there.  I remember when I was a kid
> of looking down into a well.  It was like looking down a long tunnel till
> you saw the reflection of the water which always gave me the feeling of
> depth.  Looking at the sink was like that.  Trying to puzzle this new
> experience out I began walking around and noticing how things and rooms
> were sounding to me.  I know from touch and " my mind's impressions" what
> my different rooms should look like but now I am standing in the doorways
> of the rooms in my house and sensing the depth of the room with my mind
> filling in the rest of the picture.  Is it possible that the body and mind
> can get so used to the input from the sound scapes that you can sense
> depth?  I am not saying I can feel this sensation while i am walking yet
> but it is there when I am standing and looking at things.
>  next funny thing which happened to me relates to the wearing of the voice.
>  I just purchased a new portable CD player.  To hear this particular player
> you must use headphones.  I wanted to see what it would be like to hear the
> music as I did my house work.  while standing still no problem.  Then I
> began walking around..  Suddenly I was stumbling into walls and over
> tables.  I could not believe how clumsy I was.  Then it hit me. DA, Patty
> the CD is not giving you the information you have grown accustom to with
> the Voice program.  I had to concentrate while wearing the headphone of the
> CD.  I tell you it was like being blinded again.  I could barely find
> anything in my house.  What a difference !
> Now if I can figure out how to use the CD and Voice together and not loose
> the information of the sound scapes that would be interesting.  Though at
> first I am afraid I will kiss quite a few walls!( grin)

This blind user is a woman in her fourties, blinded in a chemical
explosion about two decades ago. She has been using the auditory
display for several months now, wearing a head-mounted camera and
headphones, rather immersively that is. One could of course say
here that interpretation involves auditory profile analysis with
visual semantics, but what further insights does the huge body of
auditory research give us here? Solid scientific data for use in
this area seems largely lacking. Do you know of analogous examples
(apart from speech) where prolonged exposure to new and complex
auditory stimuli leads to sudden changes in (subjective) perception?
I'd welcome any ideas, since we are breaking new ground with lots of
unknowns, and I'm afraid we cannot pretend to know very much about it.

Best wishes,

Peter Meijer

Seeing with Sound - The vOICe