It’s an old question: How does experience shape our minds and brains? Some people play the piano; others drive taxis; others grow up trilingual. For years now, scientists have examined how these and other kinds of life experiences can lead to subtle differences in our concepts and cortexes. But to really push on the question, to really explore the limits of how experience can rewire us, some researchers have turned to an especially dramatic case: blindness. What does a life without visual input do to the mind and brain?
My guest today is Dr. Marina Bedny, an Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. For more than a decade now, Marina has been researching blindness and, in particular, what blindness can tell us much about where our concepts come from and about how are brains get organized.
Here, Marina and I discuss how people who have been blind since birth nonetheless develop rich, sophisticated understandings of the visual world. We talk about how the visual cortex in blind folks gets repurposed for other decidedly non-visual functions, like language. We consider the intriguing findings that blind people very often outperform sighted people in certain kinds of tasks. On the way, we also touch on John Locke and the British empiricists; the notion of cortical recycling; the possibility of re-opening the brain’s critical periods; and a bunch else.
This was a super thought-provoking conversation—I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think you will too. But, before we get to it, a final reminder about the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute, or DISI. This year’s DISI will be not only in-person but held in the charming seaside city of St Andrews, Scotland. More details at disi.org. The application window is only open for a little while longer, so better act fast.
Alright friends, on to my chat with Dr. Marina Bedny. Enjoy!