Thoughts about Groundhog Day, and my realization of how being afraid of one’s shadow is very possible when combining poor vision with a primitive brain

After decades of research, Dr. Paul Bach-y-rita saw them come to fruition with the BrainPort artificial vision device.

The BrainPort made by Wicab takes images from a camera worn on the forehead and converts them to shapes felt on the tongue through an array of 20 by 20 electrodes. Very cool, but also in some ways when compared to sight, very primitive; no color, and contrast is key.

I have found the BrainPort very helpful when navigating. It helps me identify things like crosswalk lines, and objects on the sidewalk beyond how far my white cane can reach.

Once during training when I was learning how to understand what the BrainPort was telling me, I walked down a sidewalk next to a large tree that extended its shadow over the sidewalk. I have always found shadows somewhat difficult to distinguish from real objects, so I walked around it as I thought it was an object and didn’t want to run into it; then, later I thought about Groundhog Day.

Years later, today on Groundhog Day, I thought about my previously mentioned experience with the BrainPort, and have to admit it makes sense, I almost can relate to Punxsutawney Phil. When one considers the poor eyesight of rodents, combined with the primitive brains they have, if I were one of them, I’d probably be afraid of my shadow too.

Even with the brain of a human, I thought it was something I would run into, so I avoided it. Upon further examination of shadows with the BrainPort however, I have been able to observe that they aren’t as sharp-edged, as substantial, or more nebulous as actual objects. Still, years later, mistaking them for real objects yet some times happens, even with my human brain.

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