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The Keyhole The Keyhole
by Jan Sand
2021-09-16 07:54:43
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I caught an interview on the radio, the other day, of an astronaut who described the qualification tests. On a trip to outer space they are confined for days to the control cabin of the shuttle and a slightly larger space behind the cabin so anyone with claustrophobic tendencies has to be eliminated. The test for that consists in being confined in a small closed spherical space for half an hour while various physiological functions are monitored to discover major discomfort or panic. If no problem is discovered the trainee is accepted for that difficulty anyway.

kes00001_400The human skull is a somewhat distorted hollow sphere and in its dark interior lies the brain where all sensual input is received and coordinated. Obviously the consciousness is located somewhere inside that huge tangle of nerves in the dark but no one, as far as I know, suffers claustrophobia for that confinement. Nevertheless, all the brain knows about the exterior world must enter through the very small keyhole of its several few senses.

These senses are, of course, quite adequate for survival in the world we inhabit for if they were not, we could not exist. But the world we perceive is a mere minuscule fraction of the reality out there. Aside from the standard five generally acknowledged senses we all can feel whether we are upright, where our several limbs may be, what is going on in several of our internal organs, where we have been and, to a limited degree, where we may be going, and whether we are accelerating or not. Our taste lets us distinguish between chemical base (bitter) or acid (sour) and our sense of smell is much more sophisticated. And some of us are quite good in sensing the passage of time to place ourselves along during the day or night. We can sense distance by comparing the slight difference between the images in each of our eyes.

Other animals can sense an extended spectrum in both light and sound which gives them capacities well beyond human in sensing space and colors that are invisible to humans. We sense infrared as heat but only at rather high intensities. Mosquitoes and some snakes are much better at it and use it as an essential tool in locating food. Migrating birds are said to sense the Earth's magnetic field to aid them in their annual movements.

But magnetism eludes us totally and we are equally insensitive to radioactivity and the continuous torrent of neutrinos that pass through our bodies and the total mass of the Earth with little or no interaction.

The human brain is an extraordinary plastic modeling instrument and it can take the input of one sense and convert it to a representation of another. It has been discovered that about 1 person in 23 actually senses colors with numbers or sounds although different synesthetic people sense different colors for the same input. Devices have been constructed, a surface of tiny vibrators, that are connected to a camera so that some points vibrate in coordination with a captured image. When this device is strapped to a swathe of sensitive skin the input, after a time of trial, seems to be transmitted to the brain's visual center and it is experienced as an image. This system is still experimental but ultimately it may become a device for the blind.

Just recently a device was constructed like a belt that sensed direction and when a subject wore it he gradually built up a mental model of a neighborhood as he walked through it. When the belt was removed the subject felt deprived of a new essential sense.

Traditional concepts of the nature of the universe have been based on our elemental senses and how they are interpreted by our internal neural coordinating systems. The models so constructed have been so convincing that philosophers have mistaken the models resulting from the interaction of our bodies with natural forces for the forces themselves which is a prime misunderstanding of the nature of reality. It is equivalent to confusing the pain from a pinprick for the pin itself.

The colors we see in nature do not exist in nature. Red, blue, green, etc. are merely the "pain" we suffer from a particular electromagnetic frequency and the actual electromagnetic spectrum, discovered through scientific instrumentation, ranging from the huge power waves to the extremely small waves in roentgen and gamma rays, is like an ocean compared to the mere tiny drop of what our visual system can sense.

The tiny keyhole of perception donated to us by evolution is quite sufficient for survival in the world for which we have evolved but science has stretched that keyhole a bit more to see that the universe is far stranger than the past has assumed. What we perceive as solid matter is actually overwhelmingly empty space warding off intervention by invisible forces and interacting at the atomic level by laws incomprehensible to common sense and understandable only with the complexities of quantum mechanics. And at the other end of size the strange inter-weavings of time and space with speeds approaching that of light also have no echoes in our centrally located perceptions.

All of these observations of strangeness may seem to have little application to normal life but the technical world that gave birth to easy communication and the wonderful integration of industry that pours out goods and services that are now taken for granted are founded on these new understandings.

Like all new powers, they have obvious dangers. It is up to our adaptable nervous systems to grasp the wonders and dangers and use them with good sense. Our keyhole is bigger. It's time to look through it and accept what's out there.


   
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