Blinfolded Reading (?) February 22, 2010Posted by Wilz in Education, Science.
My dad is pretty excited about some of his friends’ children apparently learning to read anything – newspapers, notes you write and hold in front of them – while blindfolded. Some can, while blindfolded, ride a bicycle, find their parents in a crowd, fill in colors on a line graphic, etc. Apparently this have existed in Russia and Japan for years, Russia takes 1 year to master, Japan takes 3 months to learn it, but the new Malaysian technique takes only 2 days training. (Googling for it only returns Malaysian hits though. Someone Google this in Japanese/Russian for me?) It only mostly works for kids between 5-12.
The trainer have trained thousands of kids all over Malaysia, is apparently franchising overseas to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The training is marketed as ‘midbrain’ activation, or activation of the ‘mesencephalon’ (bridge between left and right brain), which is allegedly good for all kinds of things – memory, concentration, creativity, sports (i.e. you name it, we got it). The blindfolded reading is not the intention, but is just a ‘proof’ of successful midbrain activation, and is explained by using the brainwave to ‘scan’ stuff in substitution of reading.
[EDIT 2013: Their site no longer contains literature on the ‘mid brain’ or the ‘mesencephalon’. Everywhere the term ‘mid brain activation’ have been replaced with just ‘brain activation’ or the term ‘super sensory’. However, their customers still refer to it as ‘mid brain’ activation – as can be seen in many YouTube videos such as this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eHeECJPIqE or the YouTube search link below.]
Although I am still highly skeptical about the blinfolded reading itself, the trainer have successfully built up quite a strong public ‘first-hand witness’ support – googling ‘blindfold reading’ and ‘midbrain activation’ have brought up tons of links, even youtube videos, and apparently our Prime Minister Badawi himself have witnessed this and approved a project under Ling Liong Sik. I think it’ll be easier to challenge what this claims to be. [Paragraph edited in 2013 for clarity.]
Let’s get the links out of the way:
- Main guy’s website: http://gmc-intro.blogspot.com/
- Article in The Star: http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2006/12/30/central/16411999&sec=central
- Article in Borneo Post (skeptical, first hand and informative) http://www.theborneopost.com/?p=3281
- Some dude asking in New Scientist (lol): http://www.last-word.com/content_handling/show_tree/tree_id/1866.html
- Go nuts on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=midbrain activation
To his credit, the trainer isn’t trying to turn this into some kind of mystic, spiritual or religious mumbo-jumbo. To his money-making credit, that makes a lot of sense as well, since he does want religious parents to pay RM 600++ to send their kinds for this.
- I am willing to allow the first hand reports I’ve heard/read (including my father’s word) that these children are learning to see through a blindfold. There’s too many of them.
- The training method is not 100% known – parents are not allowed in during the training, to protect the training method as an intellectual property, it is claimed.
- I don’t believe that this guy knows for sure scientifically what he’s doing. Perhaps he figured out how to teach kids to see through a blindfold, and needs a better way to market his training. Seeing with your eyes closed is usually pretty useless to those with eyes after all. Maybe.
- We need to get a scientist in here.
I initially thought this was hypnosis induced synaesthesia, i.e. switching of the senses. Seeing with sound, hearing with your sense of smell, tasting shapes, thinking of colors as numbers. The Borneo Post article seems to suggest that some kids ended up with this since some did smell or touch the cards. The guy’s website claims that what he teaches isn’t synaesthesia (in his website, he refers to this as third eye training, and differentiates himself).
[EDIT 2013: Thanks to my skeptic doctor friend Sen Wai (http://k0ks3nw4i.blogspot.com/) – I came to re-read the literature on synaesthesia and understood that this is not how it works. Synaesthesia is not a replacement of one sense with another sense, but more like cross talk between the senses in the brain. Seeing numbers in color, or hearing sounds when seeing certain patterns etc. It doesn’t ‘replace vision with hearing’ for example. I’ve edited references to it in this article.]
Apart from the science behind this, i.e. how it works, and whether it actually is the left-right brain bridge being ’empowered’ somehow, what I’d like to know is:
- the success rate of the training (how many kids end up reading through a blindfold, apparently it’s 100% atm),
- the actual rates of attaining the ‘real benefits’ of midbrain activation as claimed by the training (memory, improving at studies, sports, etc), and
- the retention rate – how many retain or lose this ability as they grow up.
If the company is serious about maintaining this, then they should commission some research to obtain the above statistics. If of course they’re reluctant, we’ll know why.
Part of being a skeptic is keeping an open mind after all, and a major part of being a scientist (or science lover) is retaining your sense of amazement at the natural wonders of the world without having to give it a nonsense explanation. Having said all the above, WTF this is amazing! (If actually true.) I’d love to get some opinions/independent research bout this.
Someone get Michael Shermer in here!
(And someone get me one of those kids so I can interrogate him/her.)