Thoughts of a Mathematical Nature (2014Mar13)

Thursday, March 13, 2014                   7:13 AM

Five Senses

The old phrase, ‘the five senses’, has become far too primitive a notion to retain its use. Even when we thought in terms of the traditional ‘sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch’ biologists still had to append that touch was actually an amalgam of the various nerves in the skin, each with the specific sense of heat/cold, texture, pressure, and pain.

Moreover, the tongue’s taste-buds aren’t one-size-fits-all, either—there are areas for sour, sweet, salt, and who knows what else—you Google it. Plus, the tongue also has all the sensory nerves of skin. The tongue is doing more work than any other sense organ, if you ask me.

The sense of smell, too, is multifaceted, comprised of several specific olfactory phenomena—the research labs attempting to digitize this ‘sense’ are stunned by both the sensitivity (measured in parts per million) and the virtually countless smells that we sniff without a second thought—not to mention the nose of a search dog. I heard of a digital sensor that is now used in place of dogs, but it only works on one thing, like explosives or cash—all I know is that we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for smell-o-matic machines for the consumer.

And there’s a sense of balance—this sense is taken too much for granted except by enlightened people like myself, who miss it dearly. It works through a sensory attachment to fluid in the inner ear—much like a carpenter’s bubble level. I think we can agree that a sense of orientation, in a world of Gravity, is an important perception. Think of this as the Stand Up Straight sense.

Then there’s proprioception, the ability to sense where ones parts are, without having to look at them, a sense of location, if you will. Think of it as the Kicking You Under The Table sense.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than semantics. Some of us have a sense of direction. Others get hunches. Old people can tell when the rain or snow is coming (which I guess makes me old). Nobody can fully explain gestalt leaps or intuition—they may be overlooked simply because the brain is doing so much thinking, it isn’t stopping to show its work, but the input is still the same nerve endings. The brain does do most of the work, anyhow—it takes the signals from the nerve endings, and taste buds, and rods and cones—and it processes them into our perception as the things we call vision, smell, etc. We can’t see our inner ear, so we think of our sense of balance as a brain-thing, magically producing information without any sensory input. We can reach back behind ourselves and pick up a beer off the counter without breaking eye contact—but we think of that as being clever, not proprioceptive.

We have a sense of time elapsing. It isn’t completely punctual, but it does keep us pretty nearly aware of the time of day, most of the days, most of the time. You got me as to what sensory input this works on—I think it just goes as fast as it can, trying to keep up with reality. In extremes, the adrenalin in our bloodstream causes a slowed sense of time, allowing for better strategizing on the fly.

I’m very interested in this question of senses, partly because it would help me understand how there could be eleven or twelve different dimensions to reality, and we’re only aware of four. Now that the thought occurs, it seems quite obvious—we’re aware of much more than the height, length, width, and passing time of our universe. Perhaps we should be exploring the connection between our senses and our measurements—there are far more than just five senses, so it stands to reason that there are more than four dimensions.

Maybe we should stop thinking that dimensions five-through-N are ‘invisible’—and start thinking of those extra dimensions as ‘unrecognized’. We might learn something (aside from the usual ‘never assume’).


Average Life Expectancy

It just occurred to me—knowing to what age we can probably live is very different from how long we actually live. If you’re like me, you see something like “an average life expectancy of 85” and you think, okay, I’ll live until I’m about 85. But you won’t—because there’s a difference between probability and reality. Eighty-five, in this example, would be the ‘probability value’ of our life expectancy and because that value is an average, what it really means is that half of us won’t make it to 85. Half of us will die before we reach 85—that’s all the hard info that particular statistic offers us. It’s an average—so it doesn’t even give the survivor-half-of-us any idea of how much longer life will last. If anything, what is really says is that, for the half that live that long, their 85th year will be their heaviest ‘funeral season’ year. It should be called The Year You’ll Wear A Lot of Black.

Of course, optimists may prefer to see “an average life expectancy of 85” as an even bet that they’ll live way past 85, at the very least—it comes to the same thing, but it sounds more positive.


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