Journal article Open Access

A case study in phenomenology of visual experience with retinal prosthesis versus visual-to-auditory sensory substitution

Amber Maimon; Or Yizhar; Galit Buchs; Benedetta Heimler; Amir Amedi

The phenomenology of the blind has provided an age-old, unparalleled means of exploring the enigmatic link between the brain and mind. This paper delves into the unique phenomenological experience of a man who became blind in adulthood. He subsequently underwent both an Argus II retinal prosthesis implant and training, and extensive training on the EyeMusic visual to auditory sensory substitution device (SSD), thereby becoming the first reported case to date of dual proficiency with both devices. He offers a firsthand account into what he considers the great potential of combining sensory substitution devices with visual prostheses as part of a complete visual restoration protocol. While the Argus II retinal prosthesis alone provided him with immediate visual percepts by way of electrically stimulated phosphenes elicited by the device, the EyeMusic SSD requires extensive training from the onset. Yet following the extensive training program with the EyeMusic sensory substitution device, our subject reports that the sensory substitution device allowed him to experience a richer, more complex perceptual experience, that felt more “second nature” to him, while the Argus II prosthesis (which also requires training) did not allow him to achieve the same levels of automaticity and transparency. Following long-term use of the EyeMusic SSD, our subject reported that visual percepts representing mainly, but not limited to, colors portrayed by the EyeMusic SSD are elicited in association with auditory stimuli, indicating the acquisition of a high level of automaticity. Finally, the case study indicates an additive benefit to the combination of both devices on the user's subjective phenomenological visual experience.

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