Incredible research is showing the brain to be surprisingly “plug and play”, as it can adapt rapidly and effortlessly to be able to understand sensory input from non-biological devices, including vibrating vests and electronic implants. Not only will such technology help people who are blind or deaf, but it promises to add entirely new dimensions of awareness about the world and ourselves.
In his amazing TED Talk, Can we create new senses for humans?, neuroscientist Dave Eaglemen presents his research on the brain’s incredible adaptability, whereby deaf people can learn to “hear” via vibrational stimulation of the skin on their backs. That the brain can learn to process one sensory experience (sound) from another (touch), suggests that it can transform any pattern of data into a perceptual experience.
“As humans, we can perceive less than a ten-trillionth of all light waves. “Our experience of reality,” says neuroscientist David Eagleman, “is constrained by our biology.” He wants to change that. His research into our brain processes has led him to create new interfaces — such as a sensory vest — to take in previously unseen information about the world around us.
Viewing “humans as hardware” is at the core of the growing field of “biohacking”. But how will swapping out body parts with electronics and machinery alter our concept of what is basically human?