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Upgrading eardrums to become a Batman

  1. Jun 21, 2014 #1
    We know that our eardrums only resonate within certain frequencies in sound. I am just wondering if it is possible, somehow, to alter our eardrums so they could resonate with sound of a wider frequency bandwidth.(Surgery? Connecting our hearing organs to some external electronic device?)

    Granted that we have managed to do that, would our brains be able to learn the new signals coming in and apreciating it as new sounds? Would these new sounds be an alien experience to a normal person? Could we hear a richer music (taking dubstep to a new level)?
    What about learning the ultrasound? Could we then learn echolocation like bats?(i asume here that ultrasound is somehow special for echolocation to occur)

    Since we've touched upon it, could we do something similar with light? Adding new visual input to our brain, so we maybe could learn to "see" infrared for example. I could be half a superhero, seeing warm objects in the night and locating position with ultrasound.

    Try to answer these questions and feel free to correct if they are based on false assumptions. Add new ideas if inspired. Thanks :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 21, 2014 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    It's generally been more effective to take incoming signals and convert them to analogs that we're already equipped to deal with. For example, military night-vision equipment works by receiving infra-red light and redisplaying it as visible light. And we've been using echolocation plus suitable amplification devices to locate submarines underwater for a century now.

    However, as microelectronics get smaller and smarter, creating new senses is becoming more feasible. There's research in prosthetic replacements for lost limbs that are activated by the motor nerves; and devices that directly stimulate the optic nerve in response to light that may someday restore vision lost to eye injuries. Generally the trend seems to be not towards modifying our existing biological detectors (by surgery on the eardrum, for example) but instead connecting directly to the nervous system and letting the brain figure out how to make sense of these new inputs and outputs.

    If you're up for some science fiction examples... consider the Rat Thing in Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash"... And I once speculated about connecting the motor nerves of a new-born puppy to the controls of a bulldozer... as it learned to control its "body", would the result be a bulldozer with the rambunctious personality of a Labrador Retriever?
  4. Jun 21, 2014 #3


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    The latest optical implants allow people with intact optical nerves but damaged eyes (through birth defect or injury) to see some greyscale images. The hard part there is finding the right encoders to take visual inputs and translate them into something the brain can use and understand. Hearing aids work by picking up audible noises, amplifying them and sending them to a speaker. Cochlear implants take this a step further using encoders that brain can make sense of. There are even some trials currently to restore hearing to those who lost their hearing through diseases and injury using cochlear implants and gene therapy.

    The problems with our current modifications, be they optical nerve implants or cochlear implants is that they don't function as well as the normal human organ, the eye or ear respectfully. Encoding the electrical signals to be useable in the brain seems to be the largest hurdle. Having the brain hear or see in a spectrum/frequency it isn't wired for or can comprehend would be an even greater challenge, and probably regulated to external devices we can make sense of in the near future.
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