Can Blind People See Art with their Tongue?

Will the blind soon be able to taste the Mona Lisa?

With the advent of some revolutionary new technology, blind people are now able to process images sent directly to the brain-from their tongues!

Although we have very little understanding of how our brains work, it would seem that our brains are adept at fixing problems we once thought impossible. For example, replacing our the broken rods and cones from our eyes with the taste receptors and nerves of our tongues. The body and brain are incredibly adaptable and while we often think of sight and hearing as our two most important senses, our other senses are able to pick up the slack and our brains take care of the rest. 

So now with the help of a new device, blind people are becoming able to actually process visual information through the nerves on the tongue through small electrical shocks. Don’t worry though, while it sounds painful, it actually feels more like “soda bubbles” on the tongue. What’s amazing though is that the brain is able to take the way a visual image feels on our tongue and translates that information to the brain. Then the brain handles the rest.

Here’s How It Works

This new revolutionary device is called the BrainPort System, created by Wisconsin based company Wicam Inc. The device looks like a pair of glasses with a camera on them connected to a hand held device and a sensor that looks like a small pad/wafer that sits on the tongue. The camera pixelates what it sees and transfers the image to the hand unit. The hand unit then translates the image and sends that information to the tongue sensor. The sensor then sends small shocks to the nerves in the tongue.


The device works on a system of “sensory substitution”. The brain is able to process that the shocks have nothing to do with taste and reroutes them to the visual center of the brain to process and interpret what the camera sees. Although the brain is only able to produce a rudimentary image, the brain can process it just the way that it would as if it were getting the information from the person’s own eyes.


What This Means for Art

So what does this mean for art? That blind people will finally be able to experience the beauty in our world, the art created by man, and of course, create art for themselves. Blindness affects over 1 million adults over the age of 40 in the USA, many of them losing sight over time. Artists who have lost their sight and ability to paint coherently will be able to paint, draw and sculpt again. Currently the device is still being developed and the current model runs for about $15,000. The images the BrainPort System creates still looks very pixelated, however, soon, technology, mixed with the power of the brain and the taste buds on the tongue, could bring about an art revolution by people who have never been able to properly experience it as a visual medium. 



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