Saturday, January 5, 2008

New senses


OMG I feel like this cold is going to kill me. Ugh.

Anyhow, bitching aside, Reddit caught what I am assuming is actually an older article on Wired on the idea of adding new senses by harnessing plasticity. Let's set aside the idea that all our more primitive portions of neural gooeyness are not designed to just lump new senses on top of old ones, what would be considered a "new sense"?

Some eels can detect distortions in a self generated electromagnetic field around their bodies, but that's all I can really think of off hand. Generally, there is a very basic fallacy that all these articles miss: transducing one phenomena into another sense violates the idea of bringing into existence a new sense. In other words, like in this article, adding vibrotactile pads to indicate the distance above the ground (by vibration frequency) is not really "sensing" gravity. You're sensing vibrational frequency. If you lose the ability to detect haptic feedback, you lose your "gravity" sense. The same is not true of our other senses. But, to play Devil's advocate, at a base level everything is transformed into nerve impulses. And yet, to play the Devil's Devil's advocate (I swear that's the title of a heavy metal song), each of our senses as its own wiring that is oodles more complicated than "sensation A is detected by cell type A, and then that just goes to 'the brain'".

Anyhow, a similar self-mutilation type version was discussed earlier on DNI, and the article links to the writer's blog, which is decent, though not updated very often. Worthy of an RSS sub at least.

1 comment:

Black said...

If a tree falls down in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

No. It will generate air pressure waves, but unless there is a nervous system in the area - and one that is equipped with an organ to detect and translate said waves - there is no sound. Just ask a deaf person.

The point? Creating a "new" sense requires both a detectable medium and a reason to detect it. We don't have sonar or echo location because we don't need it to survive and reproduce. Ditto for your eel example.

Instead of trying to create detection organs and neural pathways for every possible media our body came across, evolution led us down a much cooler and space saving path. We have advanced cognition.

Can't detect it ourselves? We'll build something! Still can't detect something, but we're really, really sure it's there? We'll theorize our asses off, creating entire fields of math, chemistry and physics in the process.

Bah, who needs a new sense when we're still trying to make sense out of all the information our current senses are sensing?

And that's my two cents :)

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