With both eyes lost as a consequence of a cancer when he was just one-year-old, you may think Daniel Kish may be as blind as a person can get. He became famous for using a kind of ‘human echolocation’ to find his way around, but there is more than that: According to Kish, his fellow echo-locators, and the scans of their brains, they’re actually seeing.
Let’s step back for a second. What does it mean to see? If you have normal eyesight, you probably think of sight as the ability to take a perfect picture of the world in front of you, by using your eyes. But that’s not how vision works. The sights we “see” are produced inside our own brains. Our eyes are certainly well-designed input devices, giving us sharp, colorful outputs of the world around us.
“They call me the real life batman. My claim to fame is that I click.” – explains Daniel Kish. His organization, World Access for the Blind, trains the visually impaired to achieve greater freedom through echolocation, a technique that simulates a bat’s night vision of perceiving the environment through sound.
“Every surface has its own acoustic signature”, – explaining Kish in the Interview to the Guardian, – “I can recognise a tree, for example, because the trunk produces a different echo from the leaves. The hard wood reflects the sound, whereas the leaves reflect and refract, too, scattering the sound waves. Everything around me becomes identifiable with a click. It provides with a 3D image in my mind with depth, character and richness. So I have just trained my ears to understand the echoes. Anyone could do it, sighted or blind – it’s not rocket science. If you hold up a book in front of you and click, then take it away and click, you can hear a difference, just as you know you’re in an empty room because it’s echoey”.
In this video shot during PopTech 2011, he hops on a bicycle to show us echolocation in action.