How to Become Proficient in Human Echolocation

Echolocation has been around for nearly as long as life has been on the planet. For most of Earth’s natural history, it’s lived in the animal kingdom. Bats, dolphins, toothed whales, shrews, and a few species of birds have leaned on this fascinating system of navigation to provide them with an evolutionary edge whilst swimming in the deep, dark sea or hunting for prey in the middle of the wee hours of the morning.

The fundamental mechanics of echolocation remain constant, regardless of the animal. The animal in question will let out a “call”. The sound wave from the call will echo back to the animal by reverberating off of the various objects around them. The series of echoes provide the aforementioned echo-locator with a crude, sonar-style map of their surroundings, which can certainly come in handy after the sun has set.

It was once assumed that the magic of echolocation was reserved for bats and water-dwelling mammals. Not so. You see, you too can learn to harness the power of echolocation. How? Just keep reading.

What is Human Echolocation?

As a concept, echolocation is universal. It certainly doesn’t discriminate. Sure, bats, dolphins, and birds may come by echolocation naturally, but that doesn’t mean that we humans can’t enjoy the perks of this time-tested, spatial awareness strategy.

So, what is human echolocation?

Human echolocation is any attempt by a human to use sound as a means of perceiving their surroundings. There is a caveat. When we talk about human echolocation, we aren’t pitching the benefits of portable sonar devices. Human echolocation is a naturally developed skill that leans on our vocal cords and eardrums.

How Does it Work?

As previously mentioned, human echolocation relies on our vocal cords and eardrums. But a successful human echolocator doesn’t use just any old sound. No, ma’am. A sharp clicking sound is the most efficient.

You can do that by pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth and quickly pulling it down. It looks and sounds a lot like this. This distinct sound is unique and echoes off of surrounding objects quite well. Making it ideal for human echolocation.

With practice, echolocation can provide you with a remarkable amount of information about your surroundings. Experts report that echolocation provides them with a spatial representation of their surroundings, not unlike a blurry photograph.

How to Teach Yourself Echolocation

Humans can’t quite reach the lofty echolocation standards of the bat, but we can get close. All it takes is some practice and a few tips and tricks.

Tip 1: Tune In

The road to mastering echolocation begins with good old fashion awareness.

Start by closing your eyes and opening up your ears. Take time each day to actively zero in on the sounds around you. The passing cars, the dripping water, the creaky floors. Notice how sounds vary from room to room, building to building, and place to place.

By focusing in on the symphony of sound around you, you’re practicing an essential echolocation skill. It’s important to be able to focus in and filter out useful and useless sound information. Taking the time to tune-in to the sounds of your surroundings can have a huge impact on your overall success.

Tip 2: Gear Up

It doesn’t take a huge financial investment to begin your echolocation training. You don’t really even need to purchase anything if you don’t want to. Having said that, two things, in particular, can aid your training and help keep you safe throughout.

First on every budding echolocator’s shopping list should be a blindfold. Science has told us that limiting one sense can increase the effectiveness of your other senses. If you’re ever going to nail down this echolocation thing, you’ll want your sense of hearing firing at all cylinders.

Next, you will want to pick up a cane or a hiking pole. Think of it as an insurance plan in case your echolocation senses lead you astray.

Tip 3: Pick Your Spot

Settling in on a place to train can be just as important as a comfortable blindfold. When choosing an environment to practice your steps and clicks, consistency is paramount. I mean, how can you expect to get better if, every time you settle in to practice, the furniture is rearranged or the environment’s sound profile has been altered?

The perfect echolocation training ground is quiet, clutter-free, and doesn’t echo too much. Try different rooms in your house at different times of the day until you find something that works for you and your schedule.

Tip 4: It’s All in the Click

Taking active measures to improve your focus and awareness is an important first step, but it certainly isn’t the final one. Once you’ve become accustomed to experiencing the world through sound and sound only, you’ll want to start clicking.

Remember, human echolocation relies on your ability to develop a clicking noise that you can replicate on a regular basis and are comfortable with. Some use a “ch” sound while others opt for the “tsk” option. Whatever you decide to do, just make sure that it’s something that you can replicate it on a regular basis.

Tip 5: Echolocation in Motion

It may take some time getting comfortable. But, once you feel as though your focus, spatial awareness, and clicking technique are serviceable, it’s time to put it in motion. Put on your blindfold or shut your eyes tight and put one foot in front of the other.

The stakes have raised and you’re going to want to be careful. There will be stumbles. Heck, there may even be a few bumps and bruises. And it’s okay to be hesitant. We recommend using a spotter — a good friend or your significant other — to help keep you from knocking over that antique vase.

Tip 6: Give it a Rest

Learning to navigate the world in an entirely new way can be mentally and physically exhausting. If you aren’t careful, the training-induced disorientation and overall uneasiness that comes with complete lack of sight will sap you of your energy.

As with any new venture, you’ll want to take breaks frequently to avoid burnout. Training your senses is certainly beneficial, but over-working them may hinder your enjoyment and keep you from mastering human echolocation. We recommend that you keep you take a break every 30 to 35 minutes.

Tip 7: Practice and Patience

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Similarly, it will certainly take more than a couple of those to become proficient at echolocation.

Plan out a practice schedule or click whenever you have downtime. Practice to the best of your ability but be kind to yourself. Remember, you’re training your brain to process sound in an entirely different way and that takes time. Years, even.

Conclusion

The point is, human echolocation is possible. At least, for those of us determined enough to make it work for us. It’s proof that, with a little perseverance and a whole lot of work, human ingenuity can even harness the power of sound.

Sharaf Maksumov / Shutterstock

Jul 30, 2019