So everyone has different sections of their brain wired to specific senses. A sections for sight, touch, smell etc.

Now if someone loses a sense their brain will rewire itself to allocate more brain power to the other senses.

What I'm asking is this: Is it possible to have a brain wired in a way that did not have specific regions for specific senses. Thus allowing the person to use whichever senses with however much strength (up to a certain point of course) they desire or need.


After several answers and comments, I realized I need to clarify what I mean when I say strength. By strength, I do not mean the actual power, or ability of the sense (i.e seeing farther, or hearing at superhuman frequencies). Instead I am talking about the enhancement of these senses perception.

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    $\begingroup$ So instead of the brain being designed with each sense getting (for example) 2% processing space, all the senses comprise a single, 20% processing space and must compete for priority within that space? $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ I don't interpret it as necessarily competing, more as power diverting back and forth. $\endgroup$
    – Imperator
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ Yes it's not a competition between senses, the brains owner would have a natural sense of how to allocate brain usage as he grew. $\endgroup$
    – Micoxion
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ With an effect similar to the old TV series 'the sentinel'? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 17:36

5 Answers 5


I'm not entirely sure what your concept really is, so this will be an answer in two parts. Part one, selective enhanced sensory perception. Part two, generalized sensor processing, where more brain power could, for example, be dedicated to the business of processing primary visual signals. .

First, unfortunately, I think there is insufficient evidence to support the proposition in your question that loosing a sense makes other senses stronger, if by stronger we mean a deaf person can see farther or at a finer resolution, or a blind person can here high or lower pitched sounds at lower amplitudes than a sighted person. This is what i'm calling sensory enhancement.

There does appear to be evidence that the loss of one sense can make you more effective at using your other senses, even though the baseline physical performance of the sensory organs or the structures immediately processing the signals from the organs have not changed. A blind person may be able to discern more notes in a orchestral piece, or a deaf person may be able to more rapidly find hidden images in a drawing. This I will call perceptual enhancement.

If your question is concerning perceptual enhancement, then it may be easy to imagine a brain organization where all perceptual processing can be turned over to the output from only one sensory center in the brain. Crudely, we might consider a savant who can play any piece of music after a single hearing as having a massive amount of perceptual processing power turned over to the auditory centers and the motor centers controlling his hands. The creatures we are imagining here would be "volitional savants", capable of operating in what we would consider normal mode, or turning over massive amounts of processing power to a specific sensory process, making them far more perceptive in that area, but essentially blind in other areas (both sensory and areas involving brain processing power not committed elsewhere). You could imagine such a savant who had focused on finding a clue in a complex visual pattern, being unable to speak or even sit in a chair straight while most of his right brain was churning through stimuli from the visual cortex.

On to ideas about generalized senses. If your question was not about this concept, quit now! I'm going to continue on from a previous answer, using synaesthesia as my proof of concept. Synaesthesia, while clearly a brain disorder, shows that it is possible for nerve impulses collected by one sensory organ to be received and interpreted by a brain structure not normally associated with that organ. Tongue to visual cortex, touch to auditory center of the brain.
Further, research seems to indicate that we should not think of visual signals as being transmitted to the visual center and ending there. The analogy of circuits wired to computer chips only goes so far and breaks down in this case. Signals picked up by your optic nerve and sent to the brain arrive at the visual center, but leak out and those signals are "seen" by many other areas of the brain.

For an example right on the nose, consider an experiment where the researchers created an electrode array 140x140 connected to a camera. The electrode is placed on the tongue of a blind subject. The image seen by the camera is transmitted to the electrode array. The result after some training is sight! Albeit shadowy and low (140x140) resolution, subjects were indeed able to see using their taste organ.

Now, however, is where my concept breaks down. Human sight, as noted above, is really much more about image processing in real time, and that work is done, not by a general purpose "computer" but by a purpose built processor. It does not appear that we see by running the "sight" software in our general purpose computer brain. Rather, we see with the "hard wired graphics card" visual center of our brain and even the signals received via the tongue in the above experiment must be received by and processed by the visual center for us to see an image. and that center is a physical structure that cannot, apparently, be augmented in any way other than physical rewiring.

So, I think I must agree with others and say, its not possible to dedicate more processing power to the actual brain apparatus of 'seeing' or 'hearing' or 'touching'. These structures are too highly specialized to be amenable to enhancement by the addition of more generalized "processing power". You will see only as well as your visual structure in your brain will allow, and allocating part of your visual structure to process taste will only make you blind, it will not make you a connoisseur of fine cuisine, although kale may now 'taste' blue.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much Jim, yes my question was regarding perceptual enhancement, not the enhancement of the senses actual power. $\endgroup$
    – Micoxion
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 4:32

You need areas of the brain to be wired for specific senses.

There's no way to get around this. Why? Memory.

Pay attention to your senses for a minute. Look around you. Listen. How many things can you see? How many things can you feel? How many things can you hear? Unless you lack all of those senses, the answer is most likely "a lot of things." Do you recognize them? Unless you were recently kidnapped and put into an alien zoo, chances are you recognize most of the things you currently sense.

How do you recognize them? Your brain has experienced them before, and is currently storing the information you need to let you recognize them.

However, the information you need is different for each sense. For example, I currently have a plastic cup on my desk. In order for me to recognize that, my brain needs to readily access a number of key pieces of information - knowledge about color, reflectivity, transparency, what shapes look like, etc. Additionally, my brain has to know how to interpret the signals that are coming from my eyes. What about trying to identify it by touch? I have to know about smoothness, flexibility, hardness, what shapes feel like, etc.

All of this information has to be stored somewhere. And it is, in the areas of your brain wired for specific senses.

The reason why a person who loses a sense can devote more brainpower to their other senses is that the area of their brain devoted to the lost sense is no longer needed. If, after the brainpower gets devoted to other senses, the person were to have surgery restore that sense, they would have to relearn how to use that sense.

So what about if you had an extra area of your brain that was devoted to interpreting senses, but not any specific one? This still wouldn't work very well unless you were to use it for a particular sense for a long time - it would be like an amateur coming up to a nuclear physicist and saying "I would like to help you, what can I do?" Now, there might be "go get me water" kinds of tasks that would be sufficiently common between the different senses, but for the most part it would be waiting around being useless. It is would be far more useful divide that area up between the senses for them to use permanently.

One last thing to consider: what if your brain somehow duplicated the section of your brain for a particular sense? This isn't going to work either - if both copies receive the same signals, they'll both get the same result. What about if the signal was divided between the two copies? Well, how would your brain know how to divide the signal before it's been processed? Also, your brain isn't used to processing only a portion of the signal, so you'd likely get confused. Even if the signal was divided reasonably and then processed, the results would then have to be combined. Again, this will require a lot of extra brainpower that would have been better off being divided among your senses in the first place.

In summary, it doesn't make sense for your brain to try to reserve power for flexible use of your senses - the significant overhead required isn't worth the small benefit you might gain from it.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for the enlightening answer, memory wasn't something I had taken into consideration yet. $\endgroup$
    – Micoxion
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 18:59

Do you mean to divert the brain's "processing power" to whichever sense you want? I don't know if it's possible right now (but if you step into sci-fi everything changes), but I think you'd hit a resolution problem. What I mean is, using more power for the ears you could follow two or more conversations at once, but you couldn't modify the ears' sensitivity or frequency range. As for the eyes, you could notice more things and improve visual memory, but not zoom or see infrared. And so on. It could be an interesting "super-power", though, with the possible weakness of the weakened other senses.

  • $\begingroup$ As I said the strength would only go up to a certain point. It's less of increasing the abilities to super human over giving more strength, and focus to the particular sense/senses in use. $\endgroup$
    – Micoxion
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 16:26

Non-fiction: "On Intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins. Hawkins and his team are doing some marvelous work in AI, and this fairly short book lays out their deconstruction of the human brain that guides their goal of simulating it.

From that book, strong evidence exists that human brains do not have set regions that must be for any given sense. The US military has been testing pilots -- they put a chip on the tongue of the pilot that gives an electrical shock in different places on the contact surface depending on the position of other aircraft around them. After a couple months of this, pilots report that they feel like they can "see" the craft. MRI shows some rewiring occurs if this is done young enough (i.e. under age 25). Babies with brain damage to some sensory regions sometimes develop just fine as long as the sensory organ has connection to another region of the brain. And those born blind really do see the visual area re-appropriated for processing whatever input is available. Finally, synesthesia is a real effect, where on region starts processing another sensor's input... the results are generally coherent, if confusing.

  • $\begingroup$ Sounds interesting. How does the book explain thing like brain injuries which mean the injured person can't see moving objects any more? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akinetopsia Or similar, 'damage THIS area and it impairs THAT function' type of observations? $\endgroup$
    – DrBob
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 16:43

Think of the brain as if it is your computer. That computer doesn't just have hardware (processing power) it has software. The brain too has 'software'.

For instance your brain has a visual cortex, specialised in interpreting visual data from your optic nerves. Inherent in the way it does that is 'software' which knows it is dealing with light, has algorithms to calculate speed and distance of moving objects, etc.

If you switched around the wiring to send the data from your ears to your visual cortex, it would balls it up monumentally. It would interpret your dog's bark as a solid object. It would tell you that Ethel's voice is red and Fred's is purple. You'd walk into traffic because it told you the vehicles were 200 yards away and slow moving.

At best you'd end up with the world's worst case of synaesthesia.


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