Chapter 6 | A Sense of Space

Chapter Subheadings

The Cornell Experiments • Edward Smallwood and the Super Echolocators •
Your Brain on Echoes • Echolocation on Steroids


Eyesight is not the only sense that can support the perception of the shape and presence of solid objects. The ability of some blind people to “see” with sound long remained a mystery, and has only recently come under serious scientific scrutiny. This chapter takes an ambitious look at the science of human echolocation, and the extremes of human sensory achievement.

Chapter Excerpt: “This also means that Smallwood, while obviously relying on sound without being aware of it, didn’t actively attempt to make any of his own sounds, such as by clicking his tongue or snapping his fingers, in the course of his daily life. Obviously, his own footsteps would have provided guidance, but it also seems reasonable to assume that he must have been well tuned in to the ambient sounds around him as well.
What makes Smallwood even more interesting though, is how exceptionally good he was at detecting the obstacles in the experiment. He not only vastly outperformed the sighted subjects, but he also crushed his blind “opponent” Michael Supa, making the difference in performance between the two much larger than the difference between Supa and the sighted subjects. This was particularly evident in terms of the measure of “first perception,” i.e. the distance at which the obstacle could first be detected. In fact, the experimenters initially seemed to have quite a bit of trouble even finding a distance from the obstacle where Smallwood couldn’t immediately detect it.”

Helpful videos

The Movie from the Cornell Experiments

Source: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

Overview of Echolocation

Lore Thaler is a prominent scholar in the area of echolocation whose research is quoted liberally in Chapter 6.


While not evidence of echolocation per se, chapter 6 briefly mentions the two scenes from the Daredevil show where we see Matt snap his fingers, as if to check if he can sense his surroundings. Included here for the simple fact that they’re interesting.

Matt loses and regains his hearing

The scene from season two, episode three, in which Matt temporarily loses his hearing. He snaps his fingers at the end of the clip as his hearing returns.

Matt’s full hearing is restored

The scene from season three, episode two which sees Matt’s full hearing ability restored. He again snaps his fingers to test his hearing.