Rethinking Our Imagined Reality: A Limited Experience of Absolute Reality

In Featured, Reasoned Thinking by Dave Gaddis

Experiencing Reality: Sense Perception

We experience Absolute Reality through our five senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Our experience of the universe is shaped and limited by our senses. These senses vary dramatically across species, meaning each experiences life in different ways.

Seeing

Light is electromagnetic radiation and photons are its elementary units of energy. Light is the primary vehicle for transporting energy across our vast universe. We can see about 2.5% of the light spectrum, but we cannot see radio waves, microwaves, infrared, ultraviolet, x-rays, or gamma rays. Said another way, human beings cannot naturally see 97.5 percent of the light spectrum.

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Electromagnetic (Light) Spectrum

Comparison with other species:

  • Cats have six to eight times as many cells for viewing objects in low lights as humans.
  • Pigeons can detect millions of color shades, well beyond human capacity.
  • Snakes have heat pits, allowing them to “see” in the infrared spectrum.
  • Eagles can focus on near and far objects at the same time.
  • Butterflies have the widest visual range of any species.
  • Owls have the ability to see ultraviolet light, allowing them, for example, to see the glowing urine trails of prey.
  • Dragonflies view movement in slow motion because their brains are so fast.

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Comparison of a Human and a Cat’s Night Vision

Ultraviolet light is used to fight money counterfeiting. Check out this $20 bill. One way to confirm the bill is authentic is by using a UV light. Many species can see this naturally.

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Anti-Counterfeiting UV Technology

Hearing

When an object vibrates, it causes movement in the surrounding air particles. The particles bump into nearby particles and propagate outward. If close enough and within our hearing range, human ears can detect the vibrations. Human beings can hear from 64 Hz to 23,000 Hz.
Comparison with other species:

  • Ferret: 16 Hz – 44,000 Hz
  • Mouse: 1,000 Hz – 91,000 Hz
  • Bat: 2,000 Hz – 110,000 Hz
  • Beluga Whale: 1,000 Hz – 123,000 Hz

In bats and dolphins, echo location is so accurate that they can tell the location, size, direction, and physical nature of an object from comparatively long distances. For example, bats can detect insects up to 20 feet away and dolphins can detect a quarter that is over 230 feet away.

Smelling

When we smell something, we are actually smelling molecules given off by the object itself. Smelling bread, then, means we are actually sniffing in bread molecules. It makes me a bit queasy to think about smelling feces or rotting meat because we are literally inhaling molecules of it. Humans have about five to six million olfactory receptors and can distinguish about 10,000 different smells.
Comparison with other species:

  • Rabbits have about 100 million olfactory receptors and dogs have 220 million.
  • Airborne albatross can smell fish that are well outside their visual range while monitoring miles of ocean.
  • The Eastern American mole smells in stereo, allowing them to determine location of their prey.
  • Scent receptors in a moth’s antennae can detect a single molecule of female sex hormone a mile away.
  • Sharks can sense a prey’s amino acids at concentrations as low as one part per billion.
  • An Auburn tracking dog can follow a single human trail over 24 hours old across an area crisscrossed by tens of thousands of people.
  • Silvertip grizzlies can smell prey 18 miles away, including how long ago the source was there.
  • A static electricity shock measures about 8,000 to 10,000 volts. A hammerhead shark can “smell” a trillionth of that voltage.

Tasting

Taste buds have very sensitive microscopic hairs that allow us to experience tastes that are sweet, salty, sour, or bitter. The average person has about 10,000 taste buds.
Comparison with other species:

  • Rabbits have about 17,000.
  • Cows have as many as 35,000.
  • Catfish have up to 175,000.
  • Octopi have 2,000,000 across about 200 suckers.

Touching

Touch is facilitated by nerve receptors in the outer layer of our skin that sends stimulus impulses to our brains, which interprets these impulses as heat, cold, pain, or pressure. The latest research found that humans can feel objects as small as about twice the diameter of a human eyelash through static touch. Through dynamic touch humans can sense changes in texture even smaller than static touch.
Comparison with other species:

  • Seals can feel fish swimming nearly 600 feet away in even the murkiest of water.
  • Crickets can feel the faintest changes in air flows produced by predators such as flying wasps or running spiders.
  • Sharks can feel the direction and amount of movement made by prey as far as 820 feet away.

The So What

First, our collective sense experience of Absolute Reality varies dramatically across species. Everyone knows the famous story of the blind men and the elephant. Each experienced the elephant differently based on the area of the elephant they touched: tusks, legs, trunk, tail. It is the same for all of us, but instead of an elephant we are talking about reality itself.

Second, the senses of all species are limited. No species can sense everything in one sense area, let alone all of them. We receive fragments of sense inputs from a much, much grander reality. Even though humans can temporarily augment our senses, it does not change the limitations of our day-to-day experiences.

Third, we do not actually see, hear, touch, smell, or taste anything. We only experience what our brains translate for us based on various sensory inputs. Whether or not it is an actual representation of Absolute Reality is suspect.

Nancy Kanwisher’s TED Talk entitled “A Neural Portrait of the Human Mind” is fascinating. It drives home point three above. With an epileptic patient’s permission, doctors electrically stimulated the portion of his brain believed to be involved in facial recognition. When stimulated, the face of the person the patient was looking at completely changed into someone he had never seen before. His brain took the very same visual data and interpreted it as a different face. It is doing that with every bit of sensory input we receive, so one must be very cautious about drawing too many far reaching conclusions from our limited sensory input and our brains interpretation of it.

Reasoned Insight #2: Sense experience affords human beings with a limited and flawed perception of Absolute Reality.

Content Sources

http://www.livescience.com/40460-images-cat-versus-human-vision.html
http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2009/01/14/animal-vision-color-detection-and-color-blindness/
http://www.sciencekidsathome.com/science_topics/what_is_sound.html
http://ent.about.com/od/entanatomybasics/ht/How_We_Hear.htm
http://www.lsu.edu/deafness/HearingRange.html
http://largestfastestsmartest.co.uk/animals-with-the-best-sense-of-hearing-in-the-world/
http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/question139.htm
http://www.sirc.org/publik/smell_human.html
http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-05/five-feats-smell
http://www.cracked.com/article_18837_7-superpowered-animal-senses-you-wont-believe-are-possible.html
http://www.cracked.com/article_18837_7-superpowered-animal-senses-you-wont-believe-are-possible_p2.html
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http://www.livescience.com/32970-what-animal-has-the-best-sense-of-taste.html
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http://largestfastestsmartest.co.uk/animals-with-the-best-sense-of-touch-in-the-world/
http://www.isciencetimes.com/articles/6073/20130917/sensitive-human-touch-new-research-suggests-fingers.htm
http://blog.ted.com/the-brain-is-a-swiss-army-knife-nancy-kanwisher-at-ted2014/

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