Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Could our other senses be alien to us?

June 24, 2008 - UFO's - Unidentified Flying in the face of all we think we know Objects. What is the fascination with UFO's? Is it the idea that we are not alone in this vast universe? Is there a need to know that life can exist in a similar (or not) form as ours, proving that 'universal' is more than just a word? ET was one of the top grossing movies of all time, and had an entire generation imagining that perhaps there was so much more to space than the stars that make cool shapes.

Centuries ago, humans believed that there was other life out there. The next Century shifted thoughts and believed more in an intelligent design to all things - including the Universe. Today, generations will just grow up with the idea that there is the possibility of life on other planets, and perhaps in generations to come, they will grow up knowing there are other beings out there in space. It may seem foreign (universeign?) to us that this could be a possibility. A few generations ago, they wouldn't have imagined life with a tiny communicator that not only fit in your pocket but could contact or be contacted by anyone. Growing up today, cell phones and computers just are. There is not disbelief or adjusting. So if I am alive to see the discovery of alternate life in the universe, I will have to adjust my point of reference. I'm fully convinced that there is indeed other lives. How life began on this planet (whatever your beliefs) can't be unique to just one tiny planet in a sea of thousands of other planets. That seems statistically impossible. But belief and knowledge are different.

On June 24th in 1947, Kenneth Arnold was out minding his own business just down across the line near Mt. Rainier, when he spotted something strange and unidentified in the skies. He described them like "saucers skipping across the water"1. and thus was born the term Flying Saucers. This was the first documented sighting of a UFO, and thus today is Flying Saucer Day or UFO Day. I wonder what Ken thought about the disc in the sky? Did he have a change in belief or was it a knowledge shift? Perhaps Kenneth experienced a sixth sense that made him question not what he was seeing, but merely how to but it to words.

As humans, we rely heavily on our vision. Of our five main senses, sight takes up a the largest portion of grey matter. The Visual Cortex is a complex system that includes not only what the eye is actually seeing, but also an ability to fill in the blanks to draw quick conclusions based on experience and mental shortcuts. Our eyes do more than tell us what we are seeing. To borrow a cliche, the eyes are the windows of our souls. If that isn't true, why do we have a hard time looking people in the eye when we converse, and especially if we are lying about something. They eyes are as much a sex organ for humans as they are a sense. They turn us on, they turn us off. And yet, if we lose our vision, the brain has the ability to increase the number of cells dedicated to the other senses. It is as though our ears, nose and touch become eyes.

Today is Celebrate Your Senses Day. To do so, we should think about the other senses. After all, we do have more than just our sense of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste. Our sense of balance (equilibrioception) keeps us upright. Our thermoception is able to sense not only heat, but the absence of heat. We have nociception which is an ability to sense physiological pain - once thought to be merely the sense of touch - new research has shown that there is indeed other sensors in the body that signal damage and near-damage to body tissue. Kinesthetic sense (proprioception) is the ability to sense where one's body is in time and space. Without the knowledge of where the body is in relation to other body parts and the world around us, we would be an entire species of klutzes. We couldn't clap, certainly couldn't dance. Ballet and gymnastics would be contact sports.

There are other senses that humans do not have, but that exist in other species. Bats and Dolphins have echolocation, some fish have the ability to detect electric fields (electroception). Birds and bees have shown to have an ability to pick up magnetic fields (magnetoreception). There is research now that shows that to a smaller degree, humans may be able to detect some magnetic fields. Some fish also have the abilityabilty to sense pressure and polarized lid. These can be used to orient themselves in the water even on cloudy days.

I wonder how many senses lifeforms from other planets have? Do they need pressure detection? Are the folks in that first UFO magnetotactic? Did they find earth because the were able to detect a strong magnetic field? Perhaps they don't have a strong reliance on vision, but instead use echolocation, and hearing. If this is the case, I'm guessing that our typical 'alien' drawings of the creatures with small bodies, large heads and massive eyes would actually look more like Alfred E. Newman. Was Mad on to something? Thoughts? I'm all ears.

1. Kenneth Arnold quote from "Celebrate Every Day"

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