Thursday, 12 July 2012

Getting to know your senses

Evolution has sculpted magnificent organisms since life first emerged from basic chemicals. Through genetic variation and speciation organisms with different aptitudes in sensing the external world have arisen, mammals such as canines have extraordinary smell, the eagle and the human have evolved extremely precise and sophisticated vision.

Butterflies have very sensitive feet and can practically taste where they land and perch. All these wonderful sensory abilities exist for one reason, due to their success in the organisms environment.

You might be sitting down now without realizing how much information you're senses are feeding into your brain. You can feel the hardness or softness of your chair, the texture of your clothes on your skin, the temperature of your room, the ticking of your watch or the wind outside. You are always receiving information from your environment, this is to ensure that you can respond to your environment in the most accurate and relevant way. If you couldn't do this and this fault was widespread across your species then you  would be in shock when you become extinct... a belated shock no doubt ;)

Yes our senses our great... especially our vision. There is always a back office doing all the grinding, this back office is our brain. It is our brain that processes all the information that comes streaming in every second. It integrates all this information i.e. integrates all sensory inputs to build a 3 dimensional 'real' world which we can interact with. A lot of shortcuts are made by the brain to make processing and executing movements and physical decisions quicker and less arduous, these shortcuts are built up over a long period of evolution. These shortcuts are handy when we slightly recognize predators and make a quick dash for safe measure or we quickly recognize the shapes of prey and quickly get into hunting mode.

Our senses are vital for us today and missing one or a few can change someones life. However, robotics and science can help us understand our senses and our brain better which could help replace lost senses. We can  also try to improve our own senses, the ones left to us by Darwinian selection. 

How we sense, process and interact with the world is extremely interesting and important in so many ways. It is also quite close to scientists as they rely on empirical data to verify claims about the world. To some physicists our own senses are crude and too uncertain (hence the microscope, LHC and other great equipment) for the macroscopic and microscopic world.

Watch this documentary bought to you by BBC HORIZON. Extraordinary is just an understatement.

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