Blindsight: weird phenomenon deepens the mystery of consciousness

Blindsight is a strange phenomenon that sometimes occurs when people have lost sight due to visual cortex damage but still respond to visual stimuli outside of their conscious awareness. New research into blindsight is offering clues, and even more riddles, about how we can "pay attention" outside of what we historically have considered conscious thought. From David Robson's fascinating article in BBC Future:

One of the first tasks (in a recent research effort) was to test exactly what blindsight patients are capable of without their conscious visual awareness – and the results have been quite remarkable. Of particular interest has been the fact that they can sense emotion: when presented with faces, they can tell whether it is happy or sad, angry or surprised, and they even start to unconsciously mimic the expressions. “Even though they did not report anything at a conscious level, we could show a change in attitude, a synchronisation of emotional expressions to the pictures in their blind field,” says (Tilburg University scientist Marco) Tamietto...

Besides mirroring expressions, they also show physiological signs of stress when they see a picture of a frightened face...

In 2008, Tamietto and (blindsight research pioneer Lawrence) Weiskrantz’s team put another blindsight patient through the most gruelling test yet... He was blind across the whole of his visual field, and normally walked with a white cane. But the team took away his cane and then loaded a corridor with furniture that might potentially trip him up, before asking him make his way to the other side.

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Dangerous plant that can make you go blind spotted in Michigan


Giant hogweed was introduced to the United States from Asia in 1917 as an ornamental plant. Pretty as it may be, it is more dangerous than poison ivy and can cause blindness if its sap finds its way into your eyes. It has recently been spotted growing along a road in Calhoun County, southwest Michigan. The county health department has warned people to "be cautious." Read the rest

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Wireless restoration of sight to the blind (rats)

Stanford researchers developed a retinal prosthesis that wirelessly transmits images from a video camera in a pair of glasses directly to a chip implanted inside the retina tissue. The innovations of lead scientist Daniel Palanker and his colleagues is that their system does away with any cable between the implant and the video eyeglasses, and buries the chip in the sub-retinal layers of the eye instead of on its surface to eliminate a kind of interference. They published their latest breakthroughs in the science journal Nature Communications. From Medical Daily:

In this study, Palanker's team from the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory placed these second-generation implants into the retinas of rats with or without macular degeneration. The researchers found that the new bionic retinas could transmit images into the minds of rats, which was observed by measuring brain activity in the visual centers of the rodents' brains.
"Solar-Powered Bionic Eye Developed By Stanford Scientist" (Medical Daily)

Restoration of Sight to the Blind: Optoelectronic Retinal Prosthesis (Daniel Palanker) Read the rest

Blindside, a new "3D audio-only adventure game" for iOS

Last October, I blogged about a Kickstarter to create "a video game with no graphics, played entirely using audio." The game is Blindside, and it's finished! Now available through the App Store for iPhone4/iPad2+. The project was inspired by co-creator Aaron Rasmussen's temporary blindness as a result of an explosion in high school chemistry.

BlindSide is an audio adventure game, set in a fully-immersive 3d world you’ll never see. Put on headphones, hold your iPhone, and face the direction you want to go. Listen as the world rotates around you and explore the darkness.

You play as Case, an assistant professor who wakes up blind, to find his city destroyed and mysterious creatures devouring people. Will you and your girlfriend be able to find your way without sight? How will you escape? Run for your life, save the girl, and uncover the mystery of the apocalypse--all in the dark!


(thanks, Joe Sabia!) Read the rest