Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Beyond The Edges of Our Perception

"Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake?"  
– Leonardo da Vinci
I’ve talked before about how reality is a subjective matter at the best of times. Well here’s another thought for you to consider.
We see the world around us in the visible spectrum of light. All those shapes and colours around us, when combined with our other senses, sum up the real world. But what about a creature like a bat with its poor eyesight and that's almost totally reliant on its ability to map out the world with ultrasound echoes? To a bat a soundscape is their reality. Just consider the implication of that for a moment. 
At first the bat's view may seem like a very narrow view of what's really there to us, but the irony is that in many ways humans are as limited as bats are with their senses. The visible wavelength we see is just a tiny fraction of the total electromagnetic spectrum. 
To get this into perspective it’s important to realise just how a narrow a window we’re peaking out at reality through. Visible wavelengths are just 0.00018% of the total spectrum available. Talk about a blinkered view of reality. Maybe out there in the universe there are lifeforms equipped to see the world across a wider frequencies such radio waves, gamma rays, or X-rays. Imagine how limited our vision would seem to them.
Without the insight that science has given us into these other wavelengths, in our own ways humans are just as blind as bats. 

15 comments:

  1. Love this. Especially since I am aphakic and can see colors others can't because I don't filter UV anymore. Of course I have lost sharpness and have missing fields and all that but I wish that everyone could see color as I do just for five minutes.

    The universe is so much more than we poor 'bats' can comprehend.

    bru

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    1. That must be extraordinary effect on how you see the world, February.

      And you're in good company... One of the most famous artists who it's suspected suffered from an eye condition was Vincent Van Gogh. There has been speculation that he suffered from fox glove poisoning and one the side effects of the systemic digitalis treatment for it is a disturbance in yellow-blue vision (xanthopsia).

      Also what a lot of people don't realise is that we all see colour slightly differently anyway, once again illustrating that visual reality isn't the same for everyone.

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  2. This comment is actually from Abi Burlingham... she had problems posting so I'm doing it for her.

    "This is such a thought-provoking post Nick. We assume, as humans, that our intelligence and perceptions are so much sharper than other creatures, that our way of viewing the world is the right one. And yet, a dog's sense of smell is something like 100 times stronger than a human's. In research, crows have been found to recognise 'bad' and 'good' people and pass this knowledge on to their young. I only have to watch the blackbirds building their nest in the garden, and hold it in my hands come Autumn, to be in awe! The list is infinite!"

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  3. First time visit to your blog and enjoyed the post very much. Sounds right up my alley. I will be back.
    -Kat

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  4. Interesting post, Nick. I'm tempted to wonder what we, as creative people, could do if we could experience a wider portion of the EM spectrum. But then I think about the fact that much of our emotional response to the world is based on what's just out of sight, in the shadows. That's often what intrigues, moves and scares us. That's what fires our imaginations. Maybe enhanced vision would come at the expense of a stunted imagination. We'd see beautifully, but our poetry might be rubbish. I dunno. Just a thought.

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    1. Think that's an interesting point, Alex... imagination filling in the gaps so to speak. The brain apparently throws away 95 percent, if not more, of all visual information it receives. If it didn't we wouldn't be able to move because our brains couldn't cope with the work load!

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  5. Great post, Nick, and I'd add, it's not only our vision which is limited. We are, on all levels, a pretty myopic species.

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  6. Good post, Nick. There's a touch of convergence here - in the novel I've planned out, the hero's uncle discovers something in an unconsidered part of the electro magnetic spectrum, and this is used as the McGuffin for the whole story!

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    1. Great stuff, Mike, and look forward to reading it! And Nicky... oh so true!

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  7. Wow, fascinating stuff. I remember that as a child I always wondered if people saw things the same way I did. Even now "my" blue or purple clearly isn't the same as my daughter's. Imagine if we even saw just a fraction more of the whole spectrum? I'd love to see it, if just for a moment.

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  8. Nick, what an interesting and thought-provoking post. :)

    Taking what you said, I guess we could liken this to people who has limited senses; the loss of sight, hearing etc. With the loss of anything, we know all creatures (including humans) can develop their other senses to counterbalance their loss. E.g. a blind person would adapt their senses so they rely heavily on their heightened sense of sound and touch whereas a deaf person, asides from their use of sight, is able to pick up vibrations instead of sound. There are also people out there who swear they can smell people with certain ailments. How about those with ESP? Would they not be considered to be in tuned with some frequency others are unable to tap into?

    Slightly off the subject; but I am also interested in colour-blindness and if it is limiting and how different it is to colour-blindness in animals –or rather their (dogs in particular) black & white vision of the world. Any thoughts –or have I gone off on another tangent? :)

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    1. Not off topic at all. :O)

      The heightening of other senses is well documented... the tapestry of them shifting to retune our perception of the world. I suppose ultimately this all highlights how individual awareness is. I suspect if we could see how others see the world it would be quite a surprise. It must be amazing to have heightened UV awareness as February describes in the first response above... imagine being able to see all those extra colours!

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  9. I've actually pondered this very thing. (= What the bleep do we know?

    How do I know that what I see as "red" looks the same to someone else?

    If a bluebird in the forest is blue-- and nobody is there to see it-- is it still blue? (=

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  10. Yes know and I love What the Bleep do we Know. :o)

    And exactly on perception... I think people would be really surprised at how much colour perception varies from person to person.

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  11. I loved this post! It reminded me of a related insight I had once when visiting an aquarium, realizing the fish in the water had no real idea of the world above the water's surface -- and then wondering what we humans had no knowledge of because of the milieu we swim in and the limits of our senses.

    BTW, Thanks for following me on Twitter. I'm following you now.

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