Scientists studying perception at the Wisconsin Medical School have come up with a new technology that allows blind people to "see" well enough to catch a ball, walk around obstacles, play rock-paper-scissors, and watch a video. The device, called a Brain Port, bypasses the eyes entirely and provides a clear representation of the outside world using gentle electric stimulation of the skin.

How does it work? A small video camera is strapped onto the forehead of the patient to record how the scene changes as he moves. The video output is wired to an image converter that translates the picture into a pattern of electrical charges on a flat patch of plastic which can be placed on the tongue, stomach or abdomen. At first it feels strange, but within 20 minutes, patients have learned to completely substitute the flesh stimulation for eyesight. This effect resembles vision so closely that the visual cortex of the brain is harnessed to process these tactile sensations.

One of the side benefits of this technology is that it helps us better understand a prophecy for the Days of Moshiach which we recite every Shabbat when we remove the Torah scroll from the Ark. The quote, from Isaiah 40:5 is, "And together all flesh shall see that the mouth of G‑d has spoken."

The "Brain Port"
The "Brain Port"

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that this verse refers not to eyes of flesh but rather to the flesh itself seeing the word of G‑d that creates and sustains each thing from nothing to something constantly. Of course, we cannot yet see the Divine life force in creation, but we do now have proof that flesh itself has the ability to see. We've already got the receiver to pick up the signal once the revelation occurs.1

Another interesting lesson from this technology is how it has changed our understanding of how the senses work. People used to think that vision was about the eye and brain processing a sequence of pictures. Now, however, citing research such as this, scientists believe that perceiving is not so much about sights and sounds but actually about processing symbolic information, much like reading words in a book.

Here too, Torah has known for ages what the scientists are just now starting to discover—that symbolic information, "words," define reality. In Hebrew, the word for "thing" and the word for "word" are the same--davar. In effect, the thing and the word are one and the same! But Torah goes one step farther. While science can show that information defines reality, it is Torah that demonstrates and celebrates where that information comes from: the Divine speech that creates and sustains the world.