I recently listened to a cool story on the amazing CBC radio science program Quirks and Quarks about human echolocation; blind people who have learned how to use sound to navigate their surroundings in a vaguely similar to the techniques some bats use. It’s a fascinating subject, and I believe the interview is still up for streaming at the CBC website right now. Most of the piece was talking about how blind people show brain activity in their visual cortex while using sound to navigate, and even smaller subsections like shape recognition light up when these people are accomplishing similar tasks using sound. It’s great evidence of how flexibly the brain can rewire itself to new stimuli and adapt to new circumstances.
But I was telling my mom about this when we were out to lunch on Sunday, and she had questions about how easy this was for people of differing ages. I told her that they’d mentioned one girl who’d become blind in her late teens and had learned to navigate fairly well in three years or so, and added that they reported one of the biggest variables was courage: “You don’t learn it nearly as well if you don’t put yourself into situations where you’ll bump into something if you’re wrong.”
There was one of those little pauses, and then my Mom and I both started talking at the same time about how all learning is like that, really, if not quite as literally. If you’re nervous and stick to safe spaces, even to a certain extent if you’re just lucky and get things right the first few times, you don’t learn much. It’s by bumping into things that you really learn lessons.
What learning experiences have you bumped into lately?