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Painting in Tongues

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 - 10:31 AM

In 2010, after being struck by an 18-wheel truck while riding her bike Emilie Gossiaux, a young painter and sculptor, was blinded. After the accident, Emilie found her way back to the studio using a BrainPort, a device that helps her "see" by using sensors on her tongue and with this technology she began to reclaim her old style.

After telling Emilie's story in 2011 we've all stayed in touch, and we couldn't get over the idea of art with your tongue so we recently invited her back to the show asking her to tell us about the sensor and how it has changed her experience of the world.



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Comments [10]

Stanley Friedman from Durham, NC

The PoNS is being tested at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. For more insightful information about the PoNS, the electric ear, Feldenkrais and more, read Norman Doidge's "The Brain's Way of Healing." It's as exciting as Oliver Sacks's "Musicophilia."

Apr. 02 2017 02:56 PM
Robert from Maine

Since the resulting imagery is a product of the blind person's brain - a creation - would another blind person develop a different or less artistic way of perceiving the visual world?

Apr. 01 2017 12:51 PM
J. N. Schad, PhD from CA, US

I heard part of the broadcast, while driving, and like to emphasis that the reason for the success of such devices, generally categorized as Tactile Sensory Substitution Systems (TVSS), is the fact that vision signals, when sent to the brain, are same as those of touch , and vision perception occurs exactly same as that for touch, with exception of the fact that 2 million, or so, photo receptor nerve endings are engaged, in comparison with much smaller numbers involved in the touch. Perception with touch is limited due to the scarcity of nerve endings. However, when more parts of touch senses (more nerve endings) are involved, as in case of fisting a hand around a small object, good perception is achieved. As noticed in the case of application above, pulsations of couple hundreds of points of the patch, on the Tong, engaging similar number of nerve ending, allow some measure of vision perception by the blind. Information signals captured by the eyes are from EM waves modulated by its touch of the environment.
Perception mechanism in the brain is exactly the same as that of the tactile sensing; we have no LED screen (unlike electronic Cameras), or likes, in our brain; and our brain precepts environment, as it precepts our body, with no need for an Interface
If interested, I have a paper about this discovery, in review in the Elsevier's Hypothesis Journal, that I can send you.
J.N. Schad

Feb. 03 2015 05:47 PM
John from United States

Er, the device in her mouth is not a "sensor". A sensor _senses_ something. The camera on the frame of her glasses is a sensor, and converts a visual signal to an electrical signal. That signal is sent to the device, where the signal goes to her tongue, which is a sensor which detects the electrical signal.

Jan. 22 2015 05:05 AM
JBdisqusblip from Va

Synesthesia, perspective on an ancient story of humans:
This wonderful story is one pebble in the story pond of how natural humans & complex self-understanding & technologies give us understanding of the neuro-psychological phenomena of synesthesia.
We have been using gyration, meditation, medication, & imagination to change the ways we interpret our senses and sense of being.
The pace of this exploration might have become more focused on technology since the explosion in the technologies/ related to our nervous system, pharmacology & electronics.
From ergotamine, psilocybin, & peyote to LSD, Lithium, & Thorazine, to back-pad-optical, cochlear implants, & DBS, we have been exploring the confabulation of our senses and our understanding of our own existence.
From injury, disease, & stroke we have been forced to see just a few of the potential ways that we might deal with such trials, open more eyes, and improve our perspectives on the world around and within each of us.

Jan. 18 2015 04:11 PM
Kim from Santa Cruz, Ca from United States

Emilie, when I first listened to your story I was moved to tears. I sat in my car in my driveway at night so that I could hear the rest of your story before going inside my house. I have never stopped thinking about you and your fact I often wondered how you were doing, and what your were doing. Today I heard the followup story on Radio Lab. I again was moved to tears, to hear you speak and converse with presence and thought. And then to be given an outlet for your art! Wow! I am an ER nurse and a musician so I feel compassion for you and your family on many fronts. To loose and then gain back not only your life and function but to also be given an vehicle to help in your art is truly a blessing and a wonderful example of courage and fortitude. I look forward to the next chapter in your life, and hope that you will allow Radio Lab to continue to share with us your progress not only in your life but in your art.

Jan. 17 2015 07:11 PM
sam from Traverse City, MI

She is Terizi from Homestuck (a web comic with a blind girl who sees with her toung)

Jan. 17 2015 02:46 PM
Susan from New Orleans

You can find Emilie's art at She recently had a show in London with Daniel Arsham. And a show in New Orleans.

Jan. 17 2015 12:25 AM

i found this maybe it could help

Jan. 15 2015 11:21 AM
Michael Carano from Ohio

Emilie, if your boyfriend or family member reads these comments here, I need them to ask you for me where I can view more of your artwork. I thought RadioLab was going to show more of it here, but cannot find it at the site. Would love to see more.

Jan. 14 2015 09:43 PM

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