Barefoot In the head

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Monday, January 06, 2020

A sixth sense?


Our brains are in total darkness inside the skull. The only inputs a brain gets are the rather limited range of signals from the five sense organs. VIBGYOR from the eyes, just a tiny bit of the electromagnetic spectrum. 20 Hertz - 20 KiloHertz, a tiny part of the audio spectrum from the ears. A few molecules, of the nearly infinite numbers that exist, that we can sense with our noses. Even fewer molecules that we can sense with our tongues. And finally, the few grams to the few kilograms that we can sense with touch. With these miserly inputs, our brains, floating in pitch black darkness – creates reality. It’s own reality, a limited sense of what is out there. If there is any ‘out there’.
A long time ago, when I was a post doc at the Technische Universitat in Vienna, my friend the late Ing. A.K. Bannerjee and I sat in a café at Karlsplatz and discussed why our sense organs are located where they are. Mr. Bannerjee pointed out that the higher up on our faces the sense organs were, the less the mass they sense. I took the idea and worked on the numbers. There seemed to be a correlation between where the sense organs were on the face and how much the energy of the particles they sensed. I wrote this up as a paper and could not find anywhere to publish it. Finally, an Australian journal called ‘Speculations in Science and Technology’ accepted our paper. It was published in 1982 and many read it, frowning and smiling.
At the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, where I was by then back from Vienna as a research associate, I discussed the idea with my friend, Dr. Amitabh Jain. He had an intensely practical theory about why the sense organs were where they were. It had to do with food.
Before putting a bit of food into our mouths, we need to guess if it is likely to harm us in any way. First, the nose tells us if it smells alright. So, the nose needs to be on top of the mouth. Then the ears tell us if it is making a sound (the squeal of a rat is not good, the sound of a sizzler is safe). Finally, the eyes tell us if it looks edible and harmless. I did not think it was much of a theory, but it had an evolutionary flavor. Maybe we could even design a set of four sensors placed at about the same positions they are on a face and use it to find out if a piece of food might be attractive to a potential eater or not.
Anyway, back to the paper. The journal it was published in went out of business. There was no Intenet back then, so the paper just vanished.
Last week (January, 2020), I found a yellowing reprint of it while cleaning out a drawer, I have scanned it and put it on my website. Here is the link:
If it doesn’t work, you could go to my website, www.cevesm.com, and navigate to the section called ‘Hard to find publications’ and click on the paper.

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