Meet Batman:

Thanks this website
Thanks this website

Just joking. This is Batman:


His name is Daniel Kish, he’s blind, and he gets around using echolocation. Here he is teaching it:


I realise that this may sound like a bit of old news. Daniel Kish has been appearing in feature segments of believe-it-or-not style documentaries for years. But recently, he was the baseline for an episode of my newest favourite podcast: NPR’s Invisibilia. The episode dropped on Friday, and you can download it (like, for free!!) here.

Daniel’s Story

In summary:

  1. When he was a toddler, he had both his eyes removed after a cancer scare.
  2. Instead of abandoning him to a home for the blind, his mother allowed him to climb trees and go to a public school and really just be normal.
  3. It seems that if you leave blind toddlers to their own devices, they naturally start to click with their tongues and learn to navigate their world using human echolocation.
  4. The public schooling system told Daniel’s mother that he needed to stop clicking, because it was socially “unacceptable” (or something along those lines).
  5. His mother refused.
  6. Daniel learned to ride a bike (supposedly impossible).
  7. Media were amazed.
  8. Daniel had an epiphany when he came into contact with other blind people – realising that they are basically constricted by the way that they are treated. People expect them to need help, so they get helped, and they never really need to learn the coping mechanisms (such as echolocation) that would allow them to navigate the world more independently.
  9. Daniel becomes a kind of activist against the Organisations for the Blind that instil dependence in the very people that they are meant to help.
  10. Daniel starts teaching echolocation to young blind children.
  11. Neuroscientists perform tests on the brains of echolocators, and realise that the visual areas of the brain that are normally dormant in the blind are, instead, blazing hubs of activity.
  12. The good news: the blind can see.
  13. Caveat: if they’re allowed to.

Here is the TED Talk:

The take-home message from all this is, I guess, that expectations shape reality. It’s the same old message that has launched many thousands of self-help books and programs.

But I wanted to share this because it feels more scientific and demonstrable than just the philosophical ramblings of The Secret. This is the real deal. The kind of story that ends with blind people literally being able to see. In the way that we see. After all, when you come down to it, eyes are just an opening for light-absorbing neurones to transmit a series of electric pulses to a processing unit in your brain that translates all that activity into a perception of space and the placement of objects within it. Why not do that with sound?

Sure, you may not get colour, and all the benefits that come with that (like reading, and night-skies, and so on). And you may struggle with the transparent (a window is a solid object, after all). But what you lose on the roundabout…you gain in being able to see in the dark.

So the moral of the story is: if you expect the blind to be helpless in their disability, then you tend to create the conditions for that to be true.

Expectations are powerful things.

And this Power of Expectation…

Is exactly what the ECB, the Bank of Japan and the Fed are relying on when they launch programs of Quantitative Easing.

For all the theoretical arguments and the assertions of portfolio-rebalancing effects (see here), QE is really just a way for a Central Bank to persuade an economy of people to believe that the boom times are just around the corner.

And the hope is that, if they’re aggressive enough:

  • consumers will start to spend their money instead of saving it, because they expect inflation (even if the real problem is more that consumers are neither spending nor saving owing to their not-being employed); and
  • firms will start to hire workers in expectation of all this renewed consumption (thereby giving the means to the workers to consume); and
  • banks will start to lend to these firms in expectation of all the improved returns based on all the renewed consumption (even though banks are biased in favour of historical data as a basis for their lending practice, which is not helpful when the historical data of firms is all very doom-and-gloom).

The problem, of course, is that:

  • consumers need jobs (and job security) before they start spending again;
  • firm-owners are naturally skeptical, and want to see signs of recovery before they’ll throw themselves back into debt; and
  • bankers are naturally averse to losses on their loans (bad for bonuses!), and want some evidence of better returns before they’ll extend them.

It’s why Keynes was such a fan of fiscal intervention – because that tends to start more logically by giving the consumers the means to consume, rather than starting from behind. It also tends to shape reality with reality.

You see, unfortunately, part of the power of expectations is that they’re powerfully difficult to change once they’re entrenched. It’s why Mr Kish is an activist against the Organisations of the Blind, rather than their champion.

That said, miracles do happen. After all, Daniel is blind, and he’s leading the blind, and he rides a bike.

So there’s plenty of hope.

Rolling Alpha posts opinions on finance, economics, and the corporate life in general. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, and on Facebook at