OCT 22, 2021 7:38 AM PDT

Blind Person Sees With Visual Cortex Implant

WRITTEN BY: Mia Wood

The Molyneux Problem is one of the most famous in the history of philosophy. In his 1688 letter to philosopher John Locke, William Molyneux posed the following question: Suppose a man, blind from birth, were suddenly made to see. Could he, by his newly acquitted sight alone, distinguish a cube from a sphere? 

The question is essentially about the relation between sense data from distinct organs. Sighted people understand the tactile feeling of a cube and a sphere in combination with the visual sensation. Think, for example, about how you might reach into a bag to feel around for your phone. As you do, you’re almost certainly picturing objects as your fingers move across them. On the other hand, a sightless person has no sight experiences, and so no sense data to combine with tactile sensations.

Locke thought the blind man who suddenly gains sight would not be able to distinguish the two objects from sight alone. (We should also add that even seeing two objects occupying space might be a stretch, since the suddenly sighted man would have no visual depth perception.) Since all our ideas originate in sensation, according to Locke, the man would have to develop the visual data store and, importantly, touch the objects while seeing them.

The problem has plagued thinkers since. Given today’s technological advancements, however, researchers are now positioned to provide an answer. A team of scientists from University Miguel Hernández and the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience produced vision in a 57-year old volunteer, who had been blind for 16 years. The results, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, are among the first steps toward creating brain prostheses for the blind.

The volunteer wore special glasses equipped with a small camera to capture visual data. That information was then encoded and sent to an implant in the volunteer’s visual cortex. The implant, a microelectrode array consisting of 96 electrodes, in turn stimulated neurons to produce phosphenes, white light points. These phosphenes generated a simple image.

“These results are very exciting,” said team lead, Eduardo Fernández, “because they demonstrate both safety and efficacy and could help to achieve a long-held dream of many scientists, which is the transfer information from the outside world directly to the visual cortex of blind individuals, thereby restoring a rudimentary form of sight.”

Sources: NeuroscienceNewsThe Journal of Clinical Investigation

About the Author
  • I am a philosophy professor and writer with a broad range of research interests.
You May Also Like
OCT 21, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Cholesterol Drug Regrows Neurons After Spinal Cord Injury
OCT 21, 2021
Cholesterol Drug Regrows Neurons After Spinal Cord Injury
Fenofibrate, an FDA-approved drug used to reduce cholesterol levels, causes sensory neurons in the spine following spina ...
OCT 25, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Illuminating Blips in Blood Flow to the Brain
OCT 25, 2021
Illuminating Blips in Blood Flow to the Brain
  Just like an athlete needs to consume a huge number of calories to support their rigorous training regimes, neuro ...
NOV 04, 2021
Neuroscience
In The Immortal Words of Bart Simpson, Always Thinking Two Moves Ahead: Forward Thinking and Social Control
NOV 04, 2021
In The Immortal Words of Bart Simpson, Always Thinking Two Moves Ahead: Forward Thinking and Social Control
Researchers study feeling of social control to better understand the brain's decision-making center
NOV 16, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Algorithm Mines Big Data, Finds Gene Linked to Psychiatric Disease
NOV 16, 2021
Algorithm Mines Big Data, Finds Gene Linked to Psychiatric Disease
We have a wealth of human genome data overlaid with gene ‘hotspots’ linked to the development of particular ...
NOV 25, 2021
Health & Medicine
If it looks like a cat and meows like a cat, it must be...a robot!
NOV 25, 2021
If it looks like a cat and meows like a cat, it must be...a robot!
Researchers show improved mood, behavior, and cognition in dementia patients who interact with robotic cats
NOV 28, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Climate Migrants and Social Justice
NOV 28, 2021
Climate Migrants and Social Justice
Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. The pressure is most on developed countries to do something about ...
Loading Comments...