Lets suppose scientist were able to make an artificial ear that they could connect to the existing nerves and pathways to the brain, allowing someone to hear. Now lets suppose that the artificial ear would be able to sense sounds outside the generally accepted hearing range of 20 Hz – 20 KHz. If the scientist used interpolation to determine what kind of electrical signal a 100 KHZ sound would send to the brain, could you hear it? Is the problem on the sending or the receiving side? What would a sound higher than the highest sound you can hear sound like?
Likewise, could an artificial eye that sensed electromagnetic waves into the infrared and ultraviolet spectrums, if hooked up to the existing nerves, transmit to the brain?
I always assumed you can’t see these things or hear these things because the instruments can’t measure them… the rods and cones in the eye or the little hairs in the ear just aren’t sensitive to these frequencies. It occurred to me today that maybe someday we will be able to replace these sensors with more sensitive instruments. If we could, could the brain interpret the signal? Anyone have thoughts on this?
The hard part is interfacing the prosthetic with the body. There has been plenty of work done in trying to get a basic grid of dots to become “visible” by placing a plate impregnated with electrodes on & in the visual cortex–mostly these result in a parlour trick for the patient and very little usable signal. It can also spark some wracking siezures.
(useless speculation follows)
But should that hurdle be overcome, or if a machine can be made to communicate successfully with the optic or auditory nerves then the limits would be pretty much up to the machine. How one would perceive otherwise imperceptible shades of gray, infra red or ultrasonic noises would be a matter of speculation until the gadget could be hooked up. Possibly the brain could learn to interpret infrared much as it would increasingly higher pitch. Another possibility would be the ability to flip between different perceptive “modes” just like you would with conventional sensory equipment (cameras & such).
It is doubtful IMHO that the adult brain could reconfigure itself to provide interpretation of a stimulus that has never been experienced. There have been cases (sorry, no cite but I’ll see what I can do) where people sightless from birth have had vision restored but it wasn’t particularly helpful since the brain never learned how to see and didn’t know what to make of the new input.
However, prosthetics to provide input that was once available but had been lost might be possible. And the brain is an amazing thing so we don’t really know what its capabilities and limitations are.
OK, here’s one
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Is it possible that your brain would ‘make up’ a new colors for the new stimulous? It’s hard to imagine any ‘other’ colors existing, but then again I wouldn’t be able to describe ‘red’ to a blind man either, so I don’t see why that couldn’t be the case.
I’ve seen experiments where people had to wear special glasses that made their vision turn upside down. Also one where people had to wear goggles that gave them “fly eye” vision. In both of those, the subjects ended up adapting to the new vision after a week or so (and subsequently had to re-adapt to their normal vision when the experiment was over). I would assume the brain would adapt to the new stimuli in a like manner. The hard part would be the physical connections.
Wasn’t there an experiment where a blind person got sensory information through the skin by mechanical means, and learned to “see”? IIRC it was a camera hooked up to an array of mechanical actuators, strapped to some part of the skin. The actuators would “draw” (press?) an image onto the skin in near-real time. And IIRC, the subject started to interpret the signal as visual input. (I can’t find any cites - can anyone?)