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Beyond blindfold

In today’s world, it is hard to give children a chance to explore a natural environment and develop a resonance with it. Various external stimulants and numerous distractions take them further away from their internal source of sensitivity and observation. There is an increasing need to instill a sense of confidence in themselves to effectively face the challenges of the complex environment around them.


A child’s confidence can flourish when they develop a strong sense of conviction in their intuition. We often consider intuition a mystery, but researchers assert that it is an evolving science. Some may call it a “gut feeling,” a “sixth sense,” or a passing thought.

Researchers define intuition as cognition in which various factors are quickly evaluated to produce a decision. It involves unconscious scanning of internal (memory) and external (environment) resources in a non-objective manner to give a comprehensive picture of the problem.


On the other hand, the technique of blindfolding is used to train individuals to develop intuition as well as affirm sensory substitution (covered in the blog). But one may wonder whether all of this is true science! Is it true that we can develop and control our intuitive abilities? And if all this is true science, then how can we improve our intention? Through the blog, let's dispel it.




Cognitive training is a non-pharmacological approach that involves a series of regular mental activities to maintain or even increase our cognitive skills. Such skills include attention, cognitive flexibility, problem-solving, observation, comprehension, intuition, reasoning, and memory. It is a way of strengthening cognitive skills by improving neural connections in the brain so that it grasps and processes incoming information better. Cognitive training uses mental workout sessions to target and strengthens our intuitive and cognitive skills such as memory, focus, attention, and observation. It can be beneficial in helping us to maintain and even improve some aspects of our cognition. A carefully formulated cognitive training can enhance and improve our cognitive skills and even lead to better scores on standard IQ tests.


There are several proven methods and techniques to train our brains. Blindfolding is one such technique. The blindfold is not an end goal, but it helps to stimulate our brain and aid in improving its ability. The blindfold technique can stimulate our brain and bring balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, including activating intention capacity which helps individuals do things with their eyes closed.




Fig1: Left and right hemispheres of the brain


When we are talking about cognitive training and blindfold, we can’t neglect the concept called “Sensory Substitution”.



Paul Bach-y-Rita (American neuroscientist) was the first person to propose sensory substitution. By definition, sensory substitution is a non-invasive technique for shunning the loss of one sense by feeding its information through another channel. It re-establishes a sense of surroundings in individuals. Simply put, those with sensory impairments restore their ability to perceive sensations and can understand their surroundings. For example, a visually impaired individual could partly compensate for the absence of visual sensations from the environment through non-visual sensory modalities (touch or auditory channels).


Interesting, isn’t it?


Individuals who are visually impaired (blind) generally do not lose the ability to see; they simply lose their ability to transmit the sensory signals from the peripheral sense (retina in the eye) to the region of the brain. Since the vision processing pathways are still intact, a person who has lost the ability to retrieve data from the retina can still see subjective images by using data collected from other sensory modalities such as touch.


In a regular visual system, the data collected by the retina is converted into an electrical stimulus in the optic nerve (responsible for vision) and relayed to the brain. The brain then re-creates the image and that’s basically how we see. Sensory substitution comes into the picture because it is the brain region that is responsible for the final perception.


During sensory substitution, an entire sensory modality relays information to the visual perception areas (visual cortex, occipital lobe) of the brain so that the person can comprehend and recognize sight. The information gained from one sensory modality can reach brain structures physiologically which is related to other sensory modalities.




Fig2: Occipital region of the brain



The touch-to-visual sensory substitution transmits the information from touch receptors to the visual cortex for interpretation and perception. For example, through fMRI, one can determine which parts of the brain are activated during sensory perception.


Research shows activation of the visual cortex in visually impaired individuals when they are trying to perceive objects just by touch!




Fig3: fMRI image showing activated visual cortex in blind.



So do we see, or does our brain trick us by putting together different sensory data at the same time?! The answer to this question lies in understanding the physiological aspects of sensory substitution!


Sensation comes only in one modality such as visual, auditory, tactile etc. Whereas perception is a result of cross-modal interactions (thanks to sensory substitution!). While sensory substitution for vision induces visual-like perception in sighted individuals, it induces tactile perception in visually impaired individuals.


In short, blind people perceive to see through touch with the help of sensory substitution. From the 1960s, numerous devices were developed to assist such individuals-- like the white cane for the visually impaired community, the tactile-visual sensory substitution (TVSS), Braille, JAWS, etc.


David Eagleman, an American neuroscientist, is a well-known name in the field of neuroscience. In his lab, David developed a sensory substitute for deaf people that captures the sound and transforms it into patterns of vibrations on a wearable vest. This method translates sound frequencies into vibrations felt on the body. This will allow a deaf person to hear someone speaking and understand what was being said. All these explanations, devices and studies by Paul Bach and David Eagleman prove that sensory substitution is real.


Application of sensory substitution is not restricted to challenged individuals but can also be included to improve cognitive skills among larger populations. This is the principle behind the blindfold technique of Brighter Minds!


In the blindfold activity, individuals’ eyes are closed, and they are asked to say the colour of the ball/ object through touch. A tactile-visual sensory substitution takes place wherein individuals describe the perceptual experience of a particular object. As if the object is right in front of their eyes! This activity is just another way of activating sensory substitution in individuals.


Today, sensory substitution has not only given impressive practical results among those with visual impairments but has also developed neural plasticity among them.


In this context, the Brighter Minds program uses a finely tuned system of tools and techniques informed by the latest advances in neuroscience to enable children to develop their cognitive abilities. Brighter Minds also believe that the children have the natural ability to use ‘feeling’ and ‘intuition’ as instruments of observation, but this is suppressed due to the lack of adequate use, practice, stress, and current lifestyle patterns. The program attempts to rebuild and improve the intuitive capacity of children as a skill that can round off other instruments of observation and cognitive abilities.


In summary, we can say that blindfolding is a tool and process that stimulates the brain. By training the brain, we can enhance cognitive abilities, for which many proven techniques like blindfolding are employed. Such techniques heighten abilities to recognize objects in the surrounding environment without necessarily seeing (blindfolded), and often with the support of non – visual-based sensory pathways (auditory, tactile, smell, etc.) called Sensory Substitution. In several contexts, this is referred to as Intuition, a phenomenon where decisions are made without the use of rational, analytical thought, or inference.





Reference



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