I don’t know if these scientists are rebels, but they definitely have a clue. According to this article in Neuroscience News, researchers at Duke University have given rats the ability to sense infrared light. Not only can the rats “touch” infrared light, but they can learn to guide themselves by it consistently as shown by the experiment talked about in the link. The process by which they managed this involved implanting microscopic electrodes in the same area of the rats’ brains that processes touch signals from the facial whiskers and wiring those electrodes to an infrared detector attached to their foreheads.
This experiment is another bolstering of the idea of neuroplasticity, which, as the name implies, suggests that brain regions are not necessarily limited to particular tasks but can be retrained for other than their original functions. As far as I know, the field of neuroplasticity has its roots in a very cool 1969 experiment by Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita where he managed to have people see with the skin of their torsos. That experiment is discussed in a chapter of Dr. Norman Doidge’s* book, The Brain That Changes Itself (a great read, by the way, and there’s also a great watch: the CBC documentary by the same name).
*According to Wikipedia, Doidge was originally a poet whose work Northrup Frye described as “really remarkable… haunting and memorable.”
Like everything else about the brain, neuroplasticity fascinates me. Even beyond it’s current practical use in such things as rehabilitating stroke victims and restoring the sense of balance to people with damaged vestibular systems, the idea that we could extend our sensory range beyond the present limits to perhaps feel and trace magnetic fields, or see such things as the Van Allen belt, not to mention what we might find when we really, finally venture farther into our solar system and beyond…what new insights and ways of seeing things about the world would we be able to bring to all disciplines, what new science, what new art, literature, poetry, song might we discover.
Oh, Tom Petty, the sky is no limit. And the future is more wide open than you knew.