Sunday, December 03, 2006

Michael Chorost has written an interesting account of how hearing with a cochlear implant differs from biological hearing. Here's an interesting excerpt from the book review:
No one reading this book can fail to be impressed by the power of neural plasticity, the brain's capacity to adapt to lost limbs or wrecked neural pathways or, as in this case, to take a brand new language of sensory input and turn it into something meaningful. (In fact, to turn it into something as close as possible to what was there before. Neural plasticity is, paradoxically, a highly conservative process. As Chorost puts it, "I knew what my own voice was supposed to sound like, and by God, my brain was going to hear it that way; to hell with whatever nerves were actually being stimulated." p. 87) What must have been a frustratingly lengthy process for Chorost can seem amazingly rapid to the reader: 24 hours after activation, for example, he has regained the ability to perceive women's voices as higher pitched than men's, not because they "really" sound like that, but because his brain knows they must sound like that.
I believe that the book review takes an overly representationalist view of the phenomena. For those familiar with the "form-content distinction", perhaps a more accurate way to describe his experience is that he has been able to reprogram his mind to reinterpret the novel data/content delivered by the cochlear implant into something akin to the original subjective "form" as before. (Via SciTechDaily.)