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Seeing With Your Skin?

ScuttleMonkey posted about 6 years ago | from the eyes-in-the-back-of-my-head dept.

Biotech 138

Iddo Genuth writes to tell us that a researcher from Tel Aviv University is exploring the possibility that humans may be able to "see" via their skin. Professor Leonid Yaroslavsky hopes to utilize this possible technology to find solutions for the blind in addition to new types of image capture that might be able to work where conventional lenses fail. Unfortunately he has a long uphill battle ahead to convince others that his theories are possible. "The lenses currently used for optics-based imaging have many problems. They only work within a limited range of electromagnetic radiation. Relatively, these are still costly devices greatly limited by weight and field of view. The imaging Professor Yaroslavsky has in mind has no lenses and he believes the devices can be adapted to any kind of radiation and wavelength. They could essentially work with a 360-degree field of view and their imaging capability will only be determined by computer power rather than the laws of light diffraction."

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My eyebrows are raised (4, Insightful)

BWJones (18351) | about 6 years ago | (#25251171)

As a vision scientist, my eyebrows are raised. I am highly skeptical for a variety of really, very good reasons...

Re:My eyebrows are raised (4, Funny)

philspear (1142299) | about 6 years ago | (#25251227)

Yes, but does that increase or decrease what you're seeing with your forehead?

Follow the money. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251919)

If you would like to see with your wallet, here is the donation page [aftau.org] . It's a press release of an organization that wants money. Does someone at Slashdot take money to pretend that these Tel Aviv University press releases are stories?

Re:Follow the money. (2, Informative)

eggnoglatte (1047660) | about 6 years ago | (#25254027)

WTF? Tel Aviv University is a very decent research institute that has made many important contributions to science. No, I am not and have never been affiliated with them, but the page you are referring to is obviously that of an alumni organization. And yes, they do raise money for the university, that is what alumni organizations do.

As for Yaroslavsky (the prof working on this "seeing skin" project), I know neither him nor this project (at least not more than the press release states), but his publication list shows that he regularly publishes in top journals such as Applied Optics, Optics Express, and Optics Letters. Clearly he knows a thing or two about light.

http://www.eng.tau.ac.il/~yaro/RecentPublications/index.html [tau.ac.il]

Re:My eyebrows are raised (0, Troll)

VoltCurve (1248644) | about 6 years ago | (#25251241)

you don't have faith in your fellow scientists? Falling back on your "very good reasons". What are you, an elitist? Go back to your ivory tower!

Re:My eyebrows are raised (3, Insightful)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25251275)

He said he was skeptical. All good scientists must be skeptical. It has nothing to do with having "faith in your fellow scientists".

Re:My eyebrows are raised (2, Insightful)

philspear (1142299) | about 6 years ago | (#25251717)

Actually it should: science doesn't work through faith. The word or untested hypotheses of even the most distinguished scientists isn't good for anything besides deciding what to test next. If Stephen Hawkings said Hawkin's radiation leaks out slightly faster from black holes than he thought and didn't offer proof, there would be plenty of people who would investigate I'm sure, but it wouldn't be accepted as more than conjecture, even though it's named after him.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (2, Insightful)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25251871)

I agree 100%; it's exactly what I was saying. You have to be skeptical. Reputation goes a long way, but it would be foolhardy to accept something that someone says based on their reputation -- no matter how good their reputation is. Being skeptical is part of the bargain and necessary. "Necessary" is probably too light a word. Without skepticism everything falls apart.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25251975)

Further, I would say that being open to criticism and being able to accept that, move on and improve (based on the criticism) separates the mediocre from the brilliant. It doesn't matter how much knowledge you have. We all make mistakes and we all overlook things. We all say silly things now and again. Far too often I have met people who cannot accept criticism -- they take it as a personal attack. These people never make good scientists (in my opinion). Being sceptical also means that you have to be willing to provide constructive feedback. Often this can be done anonymously. It doesn't have to be anonymous, but for some reason (human nature?) anonymous review seems to work well -- perhaps it's because it seems less personal (it's not personal, it is commenting objectively, which is why I said "seems"). If we were not sceptical we wouldn't need peer review.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (4, Insightful)

J Story (30227) | about 6 years ago | (#25252215)

Further, I would say that being open to criticism and being able to accept that, move on and improve (based on the criticism) separates the mediocre from the brilliant. It doesn't matter how much knowledge you have. We all make mistakes and we all overlook things. We all say silly things now and again.

This is what makes the "science" of Global Warming so frustrating. Criticism or scepticism is anathema, and we hear the constant chant that "the debate is over". Real science thrives on argument and experiments, and not on ad hominem attacks.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (2, Insightful)

philspear (1142299) | about 6 years ago | (#25252563)

Well, that's because it's no longer an academic question. SOME of the skepticism is "economically motivated" and therefore impossible to satisfy. There's also the factor of "if it's right, then waiting until it's a fact will be too late." As someone who won't lose money directly from cutting our use of fossil fuels, of course I'm going to say we should cut them now and potentially have done it for nothing than not cut them now and wish we had.

The science of global warming is now only used as a bat in the debate because there are larger issues.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (0)

Kleen13 (1006327) | about 6 years ago | (#25252141)

Do scientists even have "faith"?

Re:My eyebrows are raised (0, Flamebait)

VoltCurve (1248644) | about 6 years ago | (#25252161)

"All good scientists must be skeptical" Right. All good scientists must think like you, but you aren't an elitist with your "education"? please. What a crock.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (3, Interesting)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25252599)

I cannot believe I am replying to this.

a) Where did I say that I have an "education"?
b) Why do you think that being sceptical is bad?
c) If you think that by typing "skeptical" (mirroring the OP) was bad, then you miss the point.
d) What did I say that sounded "elitist"?
e) Where did I imply that all good scientists must think like me? (Apart from adhering to basic principles)

Re:My eyebrows are raised (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25253031)

a) you sound like a Lieberal student
b) questioning authority is never good
c) again
d) elitist liberal
e) "principles" are for dumbocrats

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

cytg.net (912690) | about 6 years ago | (#25254693)

indeed .. but how cool would it be?.. and while we problary dont have the brainpower to process a full 360 field of view, a little neural implant will fix that...
.. goddamnit i live in the wrong decade!

Re:My eyebrows are raised (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251243)

As a vision scientist, my eyebrows are raised. I am highly skeptical for a variety of really, very good reasons...

You should get that checked out by a medical doctor or a good hair waxing specialist.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

philspear (1142299) | about 6 years ago | (#25254431)

Or at least google "passive voice."

Re:My eyebrows are raised (2, Insightful)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25251253)

I have read your comments before and can infer that you're very good in your field. You have pretty cool monitors anyway. My question is this: _Assuming_ that it is possible to "see" with skin, my guess would be that the 'resolution' would be the limiting factor. Obviously the skin can detect many wavelengths of light--I am having trouble jumping from this thought to the thought of the skin resolving those sensations into an image. You, rightly I think, say that you're skeptical, but you don't expand on any of your "very good reasons". I, for one, would love to hear some of these very good reasons (seriously).

Re:My eyebrows are raised (2, Insightful)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 6 years ago | (#25251313)

Obviously the skin can detect many wavelengths of light--I am having trouble jumping from this thought to the thought of the skin resolving those sensations into an image.

Blind people seem to be able to do that with braile. Maybe a pattern of bumps can work in a similar way to a pattern of warm spots on the skin.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251445)

Blind people seem to be able to do that with braile. Maybe a pattern of bumps can work in a similar way to a pattern of warm spots on the skin.

In my family, we had a game where someone would write letters one at a time on your bare back with a fingernail and you had to identify the word.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251637)

Have you got a sister? Is she single and hot?

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

ardle (523599) | about 6 years ago | (#25251521)

I didn't RTFA but the idea seems plausible.
I recall Richard Dawkins saying that eyes tend to evolve from photoreceptive skin cells.
The brain is the most important organ that "sees"; it's the thing that does the image processing. Or, if you look at it another way, the brain constructs the image from available data.
If it were medically possible to stimulate a patch of skin cells to transmit more light information to the brain - and correspondingly stimulate a neural pathway (who knows, maybe even all the way to a "visual" area) - then the subject might be able to form a usable "image" of their surroundings by "scanning" (moving their stimulated skin around ;-).

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 6 years ago | (#25251569)

It might be a bit like echolocation. We all use it to some degree without being aware of it and some blind people have learnt to use it as a substitute for vision.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (2, Informative)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | about 6 years ago | (#25251779)

It's nothing like echolocation. First of all, echolocation is active scanning, vision is passive scanning (nobody can detect you're looking at them, however you can tell if someone's using echolocation). Echolocation is dependant upon 1 or 2 sensors, while vision needs thousands (and prefers millions) of sensors.

The calculations are explained in this link :

arXivBlog [arxivblog.com]

The article makes several good points. After minimal practice you are able to identify the location of the sun blindfolded.

A bit more practice and you can find people in closed rooms. Or behind you. This is trivially easy if the person behind you is really close, but with training you can increase the range quite a bit. It's impossibly to "feel" further than 2 or 3 meters or so, however, so while it beats our eyes in low light conditions at short ranges, it's not useful to see very far (the article explains this : it *is* possible to make skin vision work for very, very long distances, but the computational cost is off the scale).

Not only do we have skin vision, the article claims, but we use it often. To avoid staring into the sun for example, but also to detect hot objects before touching them.

Do an experiment. Heat up your stove. Hold your hand above it. It's quite clearly there isn't it ? Surely this must be the heated air rising, right ? (even though if you calculate how fast the heat transfers into your hand it doesn't quite make sense, and you don't actually feel air rise)

So now try the same with a pot. Try to identify if it's hot or cold, by just holding your hand close to it (don't touch it). You should, again, with a little concentration, be able to do this with 100% accuracy. Nevertheless, with a vertical surface, there is hardly any heated air coming to your hand, yet you're able to identify the heat from about the same distance.

We're not only able to see with our skin, but we see more than we see with our eyes. No amount of visual inspection with your eyes would tell you a cooking pot is hot or cold : the radiation that gives it away is outside of the spectrum of our eyes (this is due to the limitations of the lens "assembly"). Nevertheless clearly we can detect that radiation.

The theory goes that this is how eyes developed. Skin is sensitive at very short range, and can actually form images of very close objects. But even with the huge brain humans have it only works for at best a few meters.

However a dimpled piece of skin will see more, due to it's shape and will be able to focus further. Making that dimple moveable is an obvious next step.

From there it's a short step to what amounts to a pinhole camera.

Fill a pinhole camera that is round with a drop of water and you've got basic optics (that aren't very stable).

Put a transparent layer of skin above the droplet of water and you have reptile eyes, much, much more stable than the pinhole kind and not nearly as prone to infection.

Let the skin immediately above the hole in the skin grow a little bit and you've got mammal eyes. Add a muscle within that loose hanging skin and you've got human eyes.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

tenco (773732) | about 6 years ago | (#25252435)

After minimal practice you are able to identify the location of the sun blindfolded.

Some people actually have to practice that? Simply turn around until your face gets warm.

Nevertheless clearly we can detect that radiation.

I dont' think we detect the radiation. We detect the warmth the radiation produces in our skin. So it's not really different from feeling warmth by touching a hot object (both rely on our skin getting warmer). For the rest: i think it's quite possible put maybe this is a differen effect. In pitch-dark rooms you sometimes can "feel" close walls or large solid objects.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25252469)

In pitch-dark rooms you sometimes can "feel" close walls or large solid objects.

Are you talking about rooms you're familiar with or unfamilar rooms? For example, say I blindfolded you and stuck you in with zero light and did not allow you to speak ('cause that may mean that you can use echoes as a cue) would you be able to tell where the walls were? If the answer is yes, then that needs to be investigated. Note also that, perhaps, your walking may produce subtle echo effects.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25252485)

Air flow may also play a role

Re:My eyebrows are raised (2, Interesting)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25252517)

Radiant heat and reflection may also play a role. The list goes on. All this stuff needs to be eliminated or accounted for when you design your experiment. I am not disagreeing with you btw... just interested :-)

Re:My eyebrows are raised (2, Informative)

BungaDunga (801391) | about 6 years ago | (#25252373)

They've actually done that. Big mechanical bunch of pins or something in the back of a chair. A camera that makes each pin act as a pixel and poke into the subject's back. Terribly unwieldy, but it does give people an image in their mind's eye.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (2, Interesting)

Original Replica (908688) | about 6 years ago | (#25252151)

I am having trouble jumping from this thought to the thought of the skin resolving those sensations into an image.

As I understand it, that's more of a matter of the brain rewiring itself to interpret the signals coming from that patch of skin differently than any limitation of the nerves in the skin itself. [wikipedia.org] There is an interesting account of what this is like in an old Wired article [wired.com] around page 5 the author experiences a rather sudden shift as his brain learns to interpret visual signals differently.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (2, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 6 years ago | (#25251263)

The article doesn't say what the resolution is supposed to be. Most of us could detect a light globe a short distance behind us. Thats a kind of vision. Our skin reacts to infrared photons.

My mother is a teacher and used to work with children who were totally deaf and blind. I was amazed to see how aware they could be of their surroundings, and how much they could learn, though all of their communication was based on touch.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | about 6 years ago | (#25251287)

But surely as a scientist you have an open mind? I don't think they are talking about 'seeing' the way we see to read. The forms of 'skin vision' cited are all ways to detect electromagnetic radiation but none of them would allow one to, for example, read Slashdot. There is vision and there is vision. I think in this case they are just using the term a bit loosely. I'm a bit skeptical about some of the forward looking claims as well, but this might just bear further research.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

Metasquares (555685) | about 6 years ago | (#25252917)

Each scientist has a certain balance between open-mindedness and skepticism. I personally favor open-mindedness, even if it comes at the cost of adopting the occasional wrong idea, but I think skepticism is more common. More open-mindedness can improve the uniqueness and number of your ideas, more skepticism their chance of success and the rigor with which they are pursued.

Or, to put it another way, there is an ROC curve for accepting ideas. People who are more skeptical are gaining specificity (less acceptance of what is false) at the cost of sensitivity (less acceptance of what is true too), while less skeptical people trade off in the other direction.

Just being open-minded doesn't mean you automatically accept any idea, though. It still has to make sense. I guess for the GP, this one didn't, although I'm curious why he didn't explicitly state his reasoning.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (4, Interesting)

BWJones (18351) | about 6 years ago | (#25251291)

Argh, too many windows open on the desktop and I clicked submit accidentally before elaborating.

My first concern is that this little "story" or press release has been either re-released or duplicated on various sources verbatim for weeks if not months and I've yet to see anything in the scientific literature about it. Publishing scientific progress in the popular press before peer review typically means bogus science to me.

There certainly are photoreceptive skin cells in "lower" vertebrates and invertebrates that do transduce photosensitive information. However, any experiments I've seen in the literature or in popular press (or even weird Soviet 1960s "dermo optical" experiments that have attempted to evaluate "skin vision" in humans have failed or not accounted for temperature or other confounds.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (0)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 6 years ago | (#25253397)

My eyebrows are raised, too, but for other reasons. Considering the scandals involving prestigious "peer-reviewed" journals over the past decade or two, my respect for them has dwindled to a fraction of what it once was.

If you would like citations I can supply some, but really they are easy to find.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25254035)

Jane, what are you talking about? Peer review means that others looked at your hypothesis, your methodology, your results and your conclusion. These peers could not see any obvious flaws and, therefore, it can be published. "Peer review" does not mean that any of the paper is correct; nor should the published paper be taken as gospel truth. It merely means that there were no obvious flaws in the preparation. Feel free to object or supersede it with your own studies. This is not new to "the past decade or two". It has always been the way.

i know what peer review is!!! (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 6 years ago | (#25254349)

Jesus, do you take me for an idiot?

If you are not aware of the problems with peer-reviewed journals in the last decade or two, you only need google for "peer review" and "scandal", or "peer review" and "problem".

In recent years it has failed to be a reliable system. All I can say is that when blatant scammers can repeatedly (and apparently easily) fool the New England Journal of Medicine, and Nature (to name just two popular peer-reviewed examples, and not to mention more field-specific journals which have been equally vulnerable), then the system has largely failed.

Re:i know what peer review is!!! (1)

philspear (1142299) | about 6 years ago | (#25254485)

...the system has largely failed.

Well, it's still less broken than "No seriously, this snake oil works!"

I was in a lecture about research ethics, and the professor pointed out that research relies a lot on the honor system by necessity and also because it usually works. As I alluded to earlier, peer-reviewed is without a good alternative. What more can we do than peer-review? Lie detector tests?

Hmm... actually...

Well anyway, there's also the fact that few researchers intentionally fake their results (intentionally is key of course). You don't get into research for the money or fame. Most researchers get into it because they're genuinely interested and want to find answers, advance human knowledge, and help people. With that as your motivation, what point is there to lie? Sure, there are exceptions and extenuating circumstances, but researchers by and large don't lie.

Re:i know what peer review is!!! (1)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25254647)

You don't get into research for the money or fame. Most researchers get into it because they're genuinely interested and want to find answers, advance human knowledge, and help people. With that as your motivation, what point is there to lie?

Nice. If I happened to intentionally lie, at the end of the day the journal that publishes my paper will not lose face. I will.

Re:i know what peer review is!!! (1)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25254487)

In recent years it has failed to be a reliable system. All I can say is that when blatant scammers can repeatedly (and apparently easily) fool the New England Journal of Medicine, and Nature [...]

I read Nature and I still fail to see what you're on about. Give me specific examples that highlight the perceived "problems". If I google what you suggested I get a whole heap of results from popular media -- not exactly what I call reliable. Sure, journals (and peer-reviewed papers) are not immune to abuse; I just don't think this is a new "problem". To say that the system has "largely failed" is a bit extreme, in my opinion.

Jesus, do you take me for an idiot?

Of course not.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | about 6 years ago | (#25251447)

It seems to hearken back to the evolutionist hypothesis that the eye is an evolved version of a light-sensitive cell (like, for example, melanin) that became more specialized through time. Skin cells don't seem to react to light in the visible or infrared spectrums -- rather just ultraviolet. It's definitely sensitive to reflected ultraviolet light which means the sense is there, the information simply isn't transferred quickly or coherently enough to the brain to register it. There's no lens to define where the light is coming from when it's reflected to hit the skin, so it seems even if the brain were wired to pick up when skin is exposed to UV light, it would read nothing but static that could be coming from any direction, possibly filtered by calculating the parallax signal from other patches of skin cells. The sense, in this case, would be less like seeing and more like hearing ultraviolet light to know where which direction reflecting surfaces are, and the skin sensitivity would have to be amped to become so severe that a slap on the wrist would probably be mentally crippling and physically incapacitating.

I am not a vision-rocket guy, but the basic biology and basic physics of it all seem to add up with an adaptive-enough brain to mix it together -- but since it's not what happens to blind people naturally, when the physics and biology don't prompt the automatic switch to a lesser, but also feasible method of interpreting light, it's unlikely the human body can register the sense well enough for it to be survivably effective. Not impossible, though. Neither measurable success or ultimate failure would surprise me.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | about 6 years ago | (#25251587)

There's no lens to define where the light is coming from when it's reflected to hit the skin

Sweat can bead on the skin and act as a lens, though for evolution of sight it would probably have to be from an aquatic genesis to have become such an ubiquitous solution on Earth, perhaps a membrane protecting sensitive nerve cells becoming progressively thinner generation after generation, improving both in sensitivity and ability to focus as it becomes naturally selected for improved chances of survival both offensively and defensively.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

Kagura (843695) | about 6 years ago | (#25251491)

Have you heard of the mapping hardware that military divers can use by placing a special plate on their tongue to feel the map?

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

mikael (484) | about 6 years ago | (#25251577)

I remember reading about this in one of those X-files type books in high school ("Strange Energies - Hidden Powers" and "Mysteries of the Undead").

One of the claims was that people could tell which colour a sheet of paper was, even with their eyes closed. They said that blue or purple would "feel colder" than a colour such as red or orange. Since skin can feel infra-red radiation (heat), maybe this was possible.

But they never tested it with a sheet of paper underneath a plastic cover, so the case remains unsolved.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (0)

NimbleSquirrel (587564) | about 6 years ago | (#25253041)

As a theatre lighting designer, I'm not skeptical at all. In fact I have made use of this very phenomena.

As part of a workshop for a contemporary dance show I set up a bunch of tightly focussed beams and pools of light and then had the performers navigate around the space with their eyes closed. In a suitably darkened space, you can feel when the light hits you. I'd say the sesitivity is more the infrared portion of the spectrum, but it does work.

Re:My eyebrows are raised (1)

andy_t_roo (912592) | about 6 years ago | (#25254359)

The ability of the brain to interpret signals which do not originate from the retina as (roughly) visual signals has been known for a while - http://www.seeingwithsound.com/ is one application which maps visual to audable signals.

Hey! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251183)

You see with your eyes, not your hands!

Oh, wait.....

Re:Hey! (1)

SlashWombat (1227578) | about 6 years ago | (#25252963)

Well, the scientist obviously talks through his arse, so he probably can see with his skin. The issue will be one of resolution. How many nerve endings per square centimeter is there on a patch of skin?

Hope springs eternal (2, Funny)

overshoot (39700) | about 6 years ago | (#25251191)

I remember reports like this from the 60s.

Of course, like any memories from the 60s ...

Re:Hope springs eternal (1)

philspear (1142299) | about 6 years ago | (#25251247)

...it makes you want to smoke something and listen to the beatles?

Re:Hope springs eternal (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | about 6 years ago | (#25251301)

Was that YOU with the groovy acid at Woodstock??? Long time no see! Let's go burn one man.

Re:Hope springs eternal (2, Funny)

Emperor Zombie (1082033) | about 6 years ago | (#25251865)

Long time no see! Let's go burn one man.

I know you feel like celebrating, but that's no excuse to go around burning people.

seeing (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251239)

see my cock, covered with your shit, as I ram it down your throat you fucking homo

Re:seeing (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251543)

How can you see it if it's being rammed down your throat? That doesn't make any sense you fucking homo

Done before, using different sensory organ (4, Informative)

glueball (232492) | about 6 years ago | (#25251267)

Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita who was at UW Madison has done something with vision being projected via electrical stimulation on the tongue. It is called sensory substitution.

I've seen it first hand. It works.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensory_substitution [wikipedia.org]

Re:Done before, using different sensory organ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251469)

Don't you mean - you've seen it first tongue ;)

Re:Done before, using different sensory organ (2, Informative)

lcampagn (842601) | about 6 years ago | (#25251551)

Sensory substitution is old (but cool) news, but from TFA it looks like this guy is claiming some inherent ability of the skin to detect light, rather than delivering an image-driven stimulus to the skin. If this is the case, then he's got a lot of work to do. Like stop running simulations and start checking premises.

Re:Done before, using different sensory organ (2, Informative)

Macman408 (1308925) | about 6 years ago | (#25252087)

...and a project (also from the UW) involving several guys I know, called Visual Taste [uwinnovators.com] does that as well. There are pictures and videos, if the average slashdot reader can be troubled to follow the link...

Re:Done before, using different sensory organ (1)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25254139)

"Vague gray shapes. Big dots. Blurry edges."

"Can you see the door? Could you walk to the door?"

"Yeah, I could, if you want me to trip over things and fall down."

"That's a 5-by-5 display. Hold on," says Weiland, "I'm going to up your pixel count to 32 by 32."

Ok, it lost me there. Anyone who can assert where a door is using 25 pixels, without prior knowledge, is obviously delusional. :-)

Re:Done before, using different sensory organ (1)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25254149)

Oops... sorry, must have hit reply to the wrong message :-/

Sir, Put Your Shirt Back On. (4, Funny)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 6 years ago | (#25251319)

"I'm just having a look around."

Seriously, though:

These theories may lead to future devices with practical applications. He says that such devices will end up having distinct advantages over conventional optics-based imaging. He expects these devices to have special sensors for detecting radiation at sea and in airports to indentify terrorist threats, innovative night vision devices or near-weightless mechanisms to steer spaceships in space.

Did anybody else read this, "Homeland Security grants, DARPA grants, or NASA grants would all be just fine."

Re:Sir, Put Your Shirt Back On. (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | about 6 years ago | (#25251477)

He expects these devices to have special sensors for detecting radiation at sea and in airports to identify terrorist threats, innovative night vision devices or near-weightless mechanisms to steer spaceships in space.

Did anybody else read this, "Homeland Security grants, DARPA grants, or NASA grants would all be just fine."

My spidey sense is tingling.

Re:Sir, Put Your Shirt Back On. (1)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about 6 years ago | (#25251527)

And did else anyone read this...

"The lenses currently used for optics-based imaging have many problems. They only work within a limited range of electromagnetic radiation. Relatively, these are still costly devices greatly limited by weight and field of view. The imaging Professor Yaroslavsky has in mind has no lenses and he believes the devices can be adapted to any kind of radiation and wavelength. They could essentially work with a 360-degree field of view and their imaging capability will only be determined by computer power rather than the laws of light diffraction."

...and think of this? [memory-alpha.org]

Roald Dahl told me about this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251351)

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

You can train yourself to see with your skin, man!

Hmm. (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 6 years ago | (#25251373)

The skin vision thing strikes me as highly unlikely in the "I would expect to have seen some evidence of it occurring, given the amount of time that people have had their eyes close, covered, or damaged" not the "It is a violation of $SOME_PHYSICAL_LAW as we know it" sense.

Light sensitive cells are common enough in various organisms, including in configurations with rudimentary or nonexistent lens structures, so there is no reason to believe that humans having some light sensitive structures on their skin is impossible, I'd just have expected to see more evidence, or even anecdotes, if it were the case.

On the other hand, given the development of clever stuff like the single pixel camera [rice.edu] , synthetic aperture radar, and other examples of clever-DSP-making-seemingly-implausible-vision-systems-work-quite-well I would not be at all surprised if the researcher in TFA has some clever ideas about getting usable information out of large, irregular arrays of lensless sensor elements.

Re:Hmm. (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | about 6 years ago | (#25251579)

But generally, in all the work I've done (my graduate thesis is focusing on optical imaging with a lensless system) most of those kind of things, where you detect the magnitude of the wave-pattern, which in the far field is the Fourier transform, and then reconstruct the phase, it relies on having a relatively well-defined maximum region. I haven't looked at this yet, but I can't see this using techniques like those of X-Ray crystallography or SAR.

Ummm it's called a sunburn (4, Interesting)

gregbot9000 (1293772) | about 6 years ago | (#25251381)

Seriously anyone who has had a 2nd degree sunburn will tell you the burns sensitivity to light is amazing. I had a redhead friend who had a burn and he could tell when light was on his back while walking under trees, and even if you were passing your arm over it.

That's probably how the eyes started, as a sensitive patch of skin. Sight would be a different interpretation of pain, with color being different degrees of pain.

Re:Ummm it's called a sunburn (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251827)

More likely it would have been felt as something like heat, rather than pain. Intensity (temperature?) maps to brightness, not color. Color probably didn't come until something more eye-like had evolved - you wouldn't get color sensitivity from skin, only intensity/temperature. AFAIK color isn't as useful until after you have certain other things - light sensitivity first, to know if something's there. Then directionality, to know where. Then resolution, to know what is is. Color is an additional refinement of what. Recall that natural selection works in tiny tiny steps, and each step must be beneficial enough on its own to spread through the population.

Re:Ummm it's called a sunburn (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 6 years ago | (#25253459)

sensitivity to light is amazing.

No it isn't. Sun-burns make your sensitive to HEAT, not light. It just happens that sun-light is a common cause of your skin heating up... Of course your sun-burned skin ISN'T sensitive to indoor lighting. You might just as well have said that sun-burn makes your skin sensitive to WATER, since taking a hot shower is painful...

Being able to feel heat is a long, LONG way from being able to perceive light. And if we did actually evolve that way, why can't we see infrared-spectra light today? It would be a natural capability if eyes evolved from heat-sensing organs, and certainly a HUGE competitive advantage.

Re:Ummm it's called a sunburn (1)

gregbot9000 (1293772) | about 6 years ago | (#25253563)

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that infrared works different underwater. In fact, since WE don't see it, I am going to assume it doesn't work at all. See eyes probably evolved in water and if we don't have IR vision its probably because when the bulk work of eye generation was going on it wasn't a app worth having.

Re:Ummm it's called a sunburn (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 6 years ago | (#25254425)

Actually, you've got it backwards. Infrared (generally) penetrates further through water than any other wavelength.

This was a "psychic" trick in the 70s. (1)

EWAdams (953502) | about 6 years ago | (#25251383)

Back then it was called "demo-optical perception." It was complete crap that only worked if the person was wearing a poorly-designed blindfold. In a properly conducted test, this "power" disappeared entirely.

Re:This was a "psychic" trick in the 70s. (2, Interesting)

Psychotria (953670) | about 6 years ago | (#25251487)

Back then it was called "demo-optical perception."

Citation needed. Oh wait [ntu.edu.tw] .

Sorry, misspelling. (3, Interesting)

EWAdams (953502) | about 6 years ago | (#25251937)

Meant to write "dermo-optical perception." As for citations, see Carl Sagan or Martin Gardner.

Let's see here... (1)

IceFoot (256699) | about 6 years ago | (#25251387)

From the article: ...humans have an ability to see through their skin...human skin can "see" colors and shapes...controversial ancient instinct...skin vision could lead to new therapies for helping the blind regain sight and even read...future devices with practical applications...special sensors for detecting radiation at sea and in airports to indentify terrorist threats...360-degree field of view....

Verdict: Science fiction.

Obvious in retrospect (4, Funny)

David Gerard (12369) | about 6 years ago | (#25251441)

The next stage after talking out your ass.

But? (1)

Groggnrath (1089073) | about 6 years ago | (#25251549)

Isn't this a sort of redundant, since a technological advancement to create a device to see through skin cells would probably post date finding a way to replicate an actual human eye?

Skin can see... sort of (1)

Cousarr (1117563) | about 6 years ago | (#25251591)

The skin already senses a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. It senses in the infrared what we interpret as heat. All the wiring is probably there for the skin to be able to deliver signals for things higher up in the electromagnetic spectrum but I am doubtful the tissue itself has the capability, even with some extreme re-working.

That was the most content-free science article... (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | about 6 years ago | (#25251627)

...ever.

There's no mechanism proposed, just some vague waffle about some organisms having IR sensitive skin and some nonsense about computer simulation. I wonder if there's even anything sensible behind this article or if it's a bogus article about some bogus science.

I see with my skin, on a ladies.... (1)

Neanderthal Ninny (1153369) | about 6 years ago | (#25251699)

Yes I can see with my skin when it touches my wife (use can your imagination, not too much imagination).

brings new meaning to... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251761)

looking for pussy?

That will do, Mr. Mash (1)

MattGWU (86623) | about 6 years ago | (#25251797)

Eh, eh! Mrs. Slocomb could read two pages of the Times at once if she opened it up and sat down on it!

lol (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251893)

Evolution rocks! hehe

Disappointed. (1)

geckipede (1261408) | about 6 years ago | (#25251959)

I was hoping that this would be some form of practical followup work to an experiment that was attempted a few years back involving a camera and a grid of electrodes placed on the human back or tongue. A small computer which the test subjects had to carry around translated camera input into signals to the electrodes, and after a while the subjects reported that they had not only learned how to gain useful image information from the electrodes but genuinely visualised it, as though it were equal to input as from the eye, although lower resolution.

Bonus points go to anybody who can find a reference for this, because I can't be bothered.

Cognitive Science: This sounds familiar (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25251987)

I recall a discussion about this in a cognitive science class I took about 3 years ago. Apparently, somebody developed an aparatus that was hooked to a person's back and used pins to provide a monochrome image of what a camera on the person's head was displaying. The interesting part was that they discovered that the visual part of the brain ended up being used to process the images. Eventually the person could see...sort of.

Of course, this kind of trick won't work at all if the person is blind because of a brain problem rather than an eye problem. People who lose their sight overly early on in life will not necessarily develop their visual cortex enough for this type of technology to work. However, people who lose their eyes as adults or teens due to accidents will be fine.

Am I the only one... (2, Interesting)

jflo (1151079) | about 6 years ago | (#25252077)

Am I the only one in thinking that the ONLY logicial solution to helping the blind is for scientists to develope a Visor like Geordi Laforge had in ST:TNG... I mean seriously, Star Trek has called out almost every other obvious advancement, why not this one?

Probably nothing to get excited about, as usual. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25252167)

The problem with this is that this ability, if it exists, cannot be very pronounced or useful in humans, because if it was we would already know we had it. It would be part of our natural sensory repertoire, along with the other five. It might exist, but I can't get excited about it.

Can we mark this "Sudden Outbreak of Common Sense? (2, Interesting)

gravis777 (123605) | about 6 years ago | (#25252243)

Bear with me, I am thinking out loud here

Very interesting theory. So, we all know that what we see, hear, whatever, is caused by different wavelengths. So, why is it that we can only see in one wavelength spectrum and hear in another? Hmmm. So, if there is a way to slightly shift those wavelengths that another sensory in the body can understand, I doubt you could "see", but, with proper training, I guess it would be possible to train that sense to make sense (no pun intended) of the data.

Then again, I may be totally forgetting something, and this doesn't make any sense at all and I could just be spouting off BS.

However, if this is possible, then this could be a different way of recording data from the world around us. I understand how the eye works, and I understand how a camera works. But, if we use something different than optics to record wavelengths in the visual spectrum, and use a computer program to interperate that data into something we could see.... Hmmm, its a longshot, but it sounds highly fascinating to me.

Re:Can we mark this "Sudden Outbreak of Common Sen (1)

BungaDunga (801391) | about 6 years ago | (#25252455)

Electromagnetic wavelengths != Sound wavelengths. Sound is vibration in matter, EM is a wave without a medium (or just streams of photons, depending...)

Leonid Yaroslavsky? (1)

dorianh49 (988940) | about 6 years ago | (#25252515)

In Soviet Russia, pr0n watches you?

Sort of... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25252519)

I would not be surprised if one could thermally "see" a vague and (for obvious reasons) unfocused image of their surroundings for much the same reason as some blind people can hear their surroundings via ecolocation. Infared radiation bounces off off and is absorbed by objects, and if something is directing enough infrared radiation at you, you can most definately feel the direction it is coming from. But it would not replace sight by a long shot.

It reminds me of eyespots, It's either light in that general direction, or dark in that general direction.

I believe this is actually true. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25252869)

Theres been many times i've been able to 'see' with my eyes closed. It bugs the shit out of me when i'm trying to goto sleep.

Its not clear or sharp, but i can 'see' shapes and patches of light or dark. Larger objects ect..
Even with a pillow totally covering my eyes. Eyes closed tight.

If you think about it, it makes sense too. You have all kinds of waves hitting your skin all the time. Its not hard to believe that data could be interperted by the brain into something useful.

Whatever the hell it is. It's damm annoying when trying to goto sleep. And it's why i sleep in a completely pitch black room nowdays. I really dislike being able to see with my eyes closed. As cool as that sounds.

Heck. We may have always had this ability. But being so annoying that closing your eyes doesnt do anything..... we have all learned to ignore that extra input just for some darkness and rest.

Crackpots and Marvel franchises (1)

billcopc (196330) | about 6 years ago | (#25252989)

Seeing with our skin... just because it makes "Star Trek Sense (tm)" doesn't mean it's possible. There are a million attention whores in every field of science. Most of them are full of shit. It's just the nature of science, everything comes with a proof, and those proofs can get to your head, make you think you can do anything... well we're not quite there yet, and this is too much of a leap to be believable. This guy's chasing funding so he can be in the spotlight and pretend to work for the next 10-15 years.

Ever hear about that brown guy who believed his "ionic flanger" would enable space travel, cure all diseases and generate perpetual energy via "electromagnetic harmonics" ? No, you didn't, because they took away his funding and put him in a padded cell after he blew up his home!

Wake me when someone has a working prototype. Actually scratch that, wake me when we get time machines so I can leap forward a few centuries and see if they finally invent skin sight. Frankly I think we'll have "conventional" cyborg vision way sooner, making skin sight irrelevant.

Old news for me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25253221)

Be skeptical all you want it to be with your 'empirical minded' brain but I believe human can 'see' without eyes. In my home country there's martial arts that can teach human to 'see' the surroundings from the object's color vibration . I've seen the real live demonstration. The 'sense' are the hand palms instead of eyes. The theory is that all our surroundings reflect color wave. Usually our eyes that capture this, but our skin( palms) can be trained to act as the eyes.
This method is called 'vibration method'.
Breathing is one of the major exercise for this method.
For the martial arts practitioner, this method is only for the advanced but it has been developed also for blind people so that they can live almost normal as normal-sighted people.
The blind people get the convenience to train this instantly, more intense, no-frill, straight-to-the-core type of training so they get the result in less than 2 years.
Sadly it's unpopular,why?
MA doesn't promote well or the skeptical blind/normal-sighted people or the quitting blind people (this method required time,energy and money effort )
I'm not promoting this martial arts just want to share my opinion that yes, human has the potential 'seeing' with skin and without any high-tech device Prof. Yaroslavsky might developing.

One of the oldest scams in the book. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 6 years ago | (#25253461)

Long before I was born (which was quite some time ago), this was a favorite trick among self-professed "psychics". Thoroughly blindfolded, they could "read" a book they had "never seen before" with their fingertips.

Early psychic debunkers (among them Houdini) openly and convincingly duplicated these feats through trickery. And, under controlled conditions, NONE of the claimants were EVER able to tell the difference between anything less than the presence of very bright light at close range and utter darkness (which is explainable with temperature), much less read a printed page.

I have an open mind, but if I were a betting person I would bet against this, offering high odds.

Not to say that skin does not have light sensitivity... of course it does. But all past efforts have shown it to be a slow-acting, extremely low-resolution effect (like tanning). I do not see this evolving into a viable technology anytime soon.

That will come in handy ... (3, Funny)

PPH (736903) | about 6 years ago | (#25253599)

... as an excuse when I'm staring at some gal's tits while talking to her. Hey, they were staring at me first!

Roald Dahl (1)

xpeeblix (701114) | about 6 years ago | (#25253805)

For anyone who might be interested, there is a wonderful story based on this idea. Roald Dahl's, "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar".

"My eyes are up here!" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25253851)

So when I stare at a chick's tits, they stare back?

Whoa.

Not to sound like a nutjob but... (1)

Protometheus (1150367) | about 6 years ago | (#25254697)

I can do this, in a manner of speaking.

I don't know if it's just that I have better proprioception than most people, but I can 'see' my body, without color, when I close my eyes. From what I can tell, it has nothing to do with light. It's more to do with my body knowing where everything's at, and assembling that information in my mind as a 'visual' data.
This works no matter where the body part is. For instance, if I close my eyes and put my hand behind my back, I can still 'see' it.
Moreover, it works to a limited degree for anything I'm touching as well. I can 'see' the areas of the object I'm holding. If I've touched the entire object, my mind retains the shapes it felt, and displays the whole object (as it was when I felt those areas) as if I were seeing it with my eyes.

I hope this research goes somewhere. I'd like a scientific explanation for this phenomena.
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