Thirty-five years ago, Thomas Nagel wrote a famous philosophy paper called “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” Last month, a psychologist named Daniel Kish published a fascinating reply.
Blind since infancy, Kish makes loud clicks with his tongue, listens for the echo, and uses it to map his environment. The skill, which he calls “human sonar,” enables him to ride bicycles, climb trees, and detect downward slopes (from the way sound waves angle away from him). “The readiness with which people learn sonar suggests to me it may be an inbuilt skill,” Kish writes. And in 2001, he started a nonprofit that helps other visually impaired people “step away from the idea that their perception of the environment need be limited to the length of a stick, or to someone else’s eyes.”
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