Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

2014 Clavius Distinguished Lecture

Fordham University Department of Computer and Information Science

Sensory Substitution, Multisensory Plasticity, and the Third Kind of “Qualia”

A multidisciplinary presentation for scientists, artists, engineers, and social scientists.
Thursday, 27 March 2014 | 1 p.m.
Flom Auditorium | Walsh Library | Rose Hill Campus
Reception to follow
Presenter: Shinsuke Shimojo
Gertrude Baltimore Professor of Experimental Psychology
Division of Biology and Computation and Neural Systems
California Institute of Technology

Shinsuke Shimojo is currently the Gertrude Baltimore Professor of Experimental Psychology in the division of biology, computation, and neural systems at the California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1985 and has written for more than 150 prestigious journals, including Nature, Science, Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, and Proceedings of National Academy of Science. He is also a science columnist at Asahi digital RONZA, and has collaborated with artists on science museum exhibitions.

Dr. Shimojo is the recipient of several awards, including the 2004 Japanese Neuroscience Society Tokizane Memorial Award, the 2008 Most Innovating Research Award from the Japanese Society of Cognitive Science, and the Santory Prize for Publications in Humanity and Social Sciences. The Shimojo Laboratory studies the human brain and our ability to perceive objects and respond to them adaptively, developing new psychophysical and cognitive neuroscientific models, particularly in areas of vision, perception, and decision-making.

About Qualia
“Qualia” to some refers to the absolute, unique quality of a conscious sensory experience, which may not be explained away by neurophysiology. Whereas we do not endorse the qualia as a “hard” (i.e. impossible in principle) problem for science, we still agree that the current sensory sciences fail to critically characterize such unique quality of sensory experiences. We aim to find insights in the latest progresses of sensory substitution. The “vOICe” is one of such devices translating visual into auditory inputs for blind people. There are some super users who claim “visual” experiences. Moreover, some of them showed neural activity in the visual cortical areas in fMRI when engaged in a variety of tasks relying on this type of device. Our strategy is to come up with a brief list of psychophysical and neuroscientific criteria for “vision-like” processing and to search for empirical evidence, including:

  1. cortical mapping of space via the device,
  2. accomplishment of perceptual constancy, and
  3. intrinsic (synesthesia-like) crossmodal mapping.
Another approach we take is to fully utilize intrinsic cross-modal mappings (correspondences) to make the training and perception via the device automatic and effortless. The results suggest that qualia, if still want to use such a word, should be understood with regard to adaptive behavior and automatic processing. Moreover, what such training/experience accomplishes should be characterized best as the third kind of qualia. Enrichment of sensory experiences due to intrinsic and associative mapping provides scientists, engineers and artists with ample opportunities.

More Information
For directions and information, please contact Ms. Palma Hutter at or 718-817-4480. Parking is available at the Rose Hill.


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