Blindness neuroplasticity origins of concepts
Mar 22, 2022

Blindness, Neuroplasticity, and the Origins of Concepts with Dr. Marina Bedny (podcast)

What blindness can tell us about concept formation and how experience shapes the human mind and brain.

By Templeton Staff

How do nature and nurture contribute to the human mind and brain? In this episode of Many Minds podcast, we hear from Dr. Marina Bedny about this age-old question and her research into blindness, neuroplasticity, and concept formation. Using the methods of cognitive neuroscience and experimental psychology, Dr. Bedny and her lab at the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department of Johns Hopkins University, investigate the origins and structure of human cognition by comparing the minds and brains of people with different developmental experiences and sensory histories: sighted, congenitally blind, and late-blind individuals.

Many Minds podcast host, cognitive scientist, and writer Kensy Cooperrider introduces the episode:

"It’s an old question: How does experience shape our minds and brains? Some people play the piano; others drive taxis; others grow up trilingual. For years now, scientists have examined how these and other kinds of life experiences can lead to subtle differences in our concepts and cortexes. But to really push on the question, to really explore the limits of how experience can rewire us, some researchers have turned to an especially dramatic case: blindness. What does a life without visual input do to the mind and brain?

My guest today is Dr. Marina Bedny, an Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. For more than a decade now, Marina has been researching blindness and, in particular, what blindness can tell us about where our concepts come from and about how our brains get organized.


How do nature and nurture contribute to the human mind and brain?


Here, Marina and I discuss how people who have been blind since birth nonetheless develop rich, sophisticated understandings of the visual world. We talk about how the visual cortex in blind folks gets repurposed for other decidedly non-visual functions, like language. We consider the intriguing findings that blind people very often outperform sighted people in certain kinds of tasks. On the way, we also touch on John Locke and the British empiricists; the notion of cortical recycling; the possibility of re-opening the brain’s critical periods; and a bunch else."

Play the full episode with the above player.

Learn more about Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences priority.

Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences is a multiyear, global effort to understand a world alive with brilliance in many forms. Its mission is to promote open-minded, forward-looking inquiry in animal, human, and machine intelligences. We collaborate with leading experts and emerging scholars from around the globe, developing high-caliber projects that advance our comprehension of the constellation of intelligences.

Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI), made possible through a grant from TWCF to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The Many Minds podcast is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from assistant producer Cecilia Padilla. Creative support is provided by DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Artwork is by Ben Oldroyd.