Tag Archives: Daniel-Kish

Echolocation in iVokh, dolphins and humans

I started thinking about the creatures of Vokhtah back in November, 2004 when I did Nanowrimo for the first time. I knew right from the start that the Vokh would be vicious, psychopathic hermaphrodites with wings, but as I explored their lives I realised that they couldn’t possibly live together without killing each other. That was when I stumbled across a weird fact from nature – crocodiles allow plover birds to hop in their mouths and clean scraps of meat from their teeth!

This is called ‘mutualism’, a symbiotic relationship in which both parties gain benefits. In the case of the plover bird, it gets to eat the meat it picks from the crocodile’s teeth. The crocodile, on the other hand, gives up a very small snack in exchange for keeping its teeth clean and healthy.

I have no idea how such a relationship would have evolved in nature, but it did give me the answer to the Vokh riddle: my huge, intelligent aliens would live in a symbiotic relationship with another species. Enter the iVokh.

I won’t bore you with a history of how the iVokh evolved in my mind, it’s enough to say that they had to be similar to the Vokh, but also different. One of those differences ended up being teeth, or to be more exact the shape of the iVokh jaw. You see the reason the Vokh tolerate the iVokh is because they need the iVokh to raise their offspring. Part of that requires that the newborn Vokh be fed a gruel of mashed up grains and tubers.

But if the iVokh were like the Vokh and only drank blood [sorry I’m kind of skipping a few vital facts here], then how would they know to give the Vokhling gruel?

The answer lay in the fact that the iVokh had retained their molars [grinding teeth], and hence could chew. This gave them the ability to feed on a number of different types of food, not just blood. By contrast, the Vokh were so powerful that they could live on nothing but blood. In time, their teeth and jaws evolved to make it easier for them to eat their favourite food. That required bigger, stronger fangs, not molars.

But what do molars have to do with echolocation? Before I get to the Vokh and iVokh, I’d like to give you a quick description of how echolocation works in dolphins:

https://dolphins.org/anatomy

  1. In the simplest terms, dolphins send clicks through that bulge on their heads. It’s called the ‘melon’ and it amplifies the sound.
  2. The clicks spread out through the water and ‘bounce’ against objects in the water.
  3. This bounce returns to the dolphin as a kind of echo.
  4. The echo is captured by the dolphin’s lower jaw and is transferred to its inner ear [maybe like a vibration?].
  5. From there, the echo goes straight to the auditory part of the dolphin’s brain where it is translated into a kind of ‘image’.

The important thing to note here is that the echo does not return to the dolphin’s ear, or at least not directly. First it goes to the jaw. And there, tah dah, was one perfect, evolutionary difference between the Vokh and iVokh. As the lower jaw of the Vokh changed, so too did its ability to echolocate. It can still ping enough to avoid walking into things in the dark, but not enough to ‘see’ objects at a distance.

In my mind, I see this qualitative difference as being similar to the difference between the echolocation of a dolphin and a human:

I’ve mentioned Daniel Kish and his amazing ability before, yet for all of his skill, he cannot operate in his own environment as well as a dolphin operates in the ocean.

So that’s how the iVokh got echolocation. ๐Ÿ™‚

In case anyone is wondering, the world of Vokhtah is a strange melange of science and paranormal fantasy. Along with their physical characteristics, most of which have parallels in real biology, the Vokh and iVokh also have mental skills that don’t. Despite the best efforts of all sorts of scientists, we still lack proof that telekinesis or telepathy actually exist. But while I love science, I’m not a scientist, and paranormal talents are fun to write about. ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks for coming on this odd little journey with me!

cheers

Meeks

 


The birth of cybernetics?

Doctor Who fans will immediately recognize the concept of the ‘Cyberman’, but for everyone else, it’s a being that evolved from a biological base into a fusion of ‘meat + machine’.

In the Doctor Who series, the Cybermen are more machine than meat, but the concept stays the same. And it’s been a recurring theme in science fiction for decades. Anyone remember a TV show called the 64 Million Dollar Man?

But that’s all just make believe…isn’t it?

Well, no, no it’s not, not any more. Welcome to the world of David Eagleman. If you have any interest in what makes all life on earth tick, you will find this TED talk absolutely rivetting:

Did you watch it? Did it blow you away? Yeah, me too. ๐Ÿ˜€

There were a number of things in that talk that made me nod like crazy, but two really stood out:

  • the brain is a general purpose computing device, and
  • the concept of sensory substitution

As someone interested in biology, I sort of knew about the parts of the brain and how they functioned, but until quite recently, I assumed that brain plasticity [the ability of the brain to change itself when necessary] was restricted to fairly ‘small’ functions. And then I heard about Daniel Kish. He has no eyes, so everything you see him do, he does without using the physical pathways you or I use when we ‘see’ things. Instead, he makes clicking sounds and ‘hears’ them bounce off objects in their path:

Daniel Kish is an example of biological sensory substitution because he uses his hearing to provide data to the brain which the brain then interprets as a kind of vision. It’s real, it can be done, it’s just that most of the time, we humans prefer to use the easy path we learned as babies.

Just as a matter of interest, did you know that the visual cortex of a newborn baby is ‘unfinished’? Steropsis, or

The perception of depth produced by the reception in the brain of visual stimuli from both eyes in combination; binocular vision

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/stereopsis

is ‘learned’ in the first 18 months of a baby’s life. If something happens to disrupt this learning process, binocular vision will not develop. Instead, the child will learn how to see 3D using a process called ‘motion parallax’. I know, because that’s how I see, and I can play pretty fast and furious table tennis. ๐Ÿ˜€

The more I learn about the world, the more amazed I become at its incredible power. Is it any wonder I’m a sci-fi nut?

Special thanks to Museworthyman for pointing me towards that mind-blowing TED talk. Kindred spirits unite!

cheers

Meeks

 


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