Why Do We Dream? A New Theory on How It Protects Our Brains

When he was two years old, Ben stopped seeing out of his left eye. His mother took him to the doctor and soon discovered he had retinal cancer in both eyes. After chemotherapy and radiation failed, surgeons removed both his eyes. For Ben, vision was gone forever. But by the time he was seven years old, he had devised a technique for decoding the world around him: he clicked with his mouth and listened for the returning echoes. This method enabled Ben to determine the locations of open doorways, people, parked cars, garbage cans, and so on. He was echolocating: bouncing his sound waves off objects in the environment and catching the reflections to build a mental model of his surroundings. Echolocation may sound like an improbable feat for a human, but thousands of blind people have perfected this skill, just like Ben did. The phenomenon has been written about since at least the 1940s, when the word “echolocation” was first coined in a Science article titled “Echolocation by Blind Men, Bats, and Radar.” How could blindness give rise to the stunning ability to understand the surroundings with one’s ears? The answer lies in a gift bestowed on the brain by evolution: tremendous adaptability. Whenever we learn something new, pick up a new skill, or modify our habits, the physical structure of our brain changes. Neurons, the cells responsible for rapidly processing information in the brain, are interconnected by the thousands—but like friendships...
Source: TIME: Science - Category: Science Authors: Tags: Uncategorized Source Type: news