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jwong's picture

mixed feelings.

All the topics that have been discussed in the forum so far have led to an interesting discussion about comparing our brains to computers. I agree with Caroline in her discussion of the brain being able to function even with broken wires/failed connections, and how this makes it better than, or at least not equivalent to a computer. I definitely think it is interesting that our body is imagined to only have five senses when in fact those “five” simply define the stimuli that we consciously perceive.

Something that I was thinking about as a result of our discsusion this past week was the idea of these five senses, and then the sense that we all have of ourselves as a physical object. I believe our ability to sense the relative position of our bodies in relation to neighboring parts of our body is another conscious sense that we all possess, having to do with a percieved sense of balance and individual self. The idea of self awareness, known as proprioception, (the sense of perceiving your body in relation to the outer world) is interesting in relation to something that was mentioned earlier, about developing a greater sense of the world around us and thus be more perceptive by modifying one’s own senses to becoming more aware of outer stimuli.

An example of this is the sense of direction. People are always mentioning, especially when driving, whether or not they have a “good sense of direction.” What does this really mean? True, some people are better at recognizing landmarks or being able to follow maps, but are there really some people who inherently can recognize where North lies? How is this possible? Does North really feel different from South or any other direction? The only possible explanation that I could come up with for such improved sensory detection is what we discussed as the human ability to perceive the existence of outer stimuli. In order to do so we transform them into different apparatus that our brain is already wired to percieve. This basically means changing the ultrasound, the infrared into something more tangible to percieve, like the sense of tough or sight. The brain is wired to adapt to new sensory skills and can be flexible enough to adjust to new “plug-ins” to enhance its capacity to interpret data. An interesting experiment was done at the University of Osnabrück in Germany in regard to such perception. For six weeks a man strapped a wide belt with vibrating pads onto his waist that contained sensors and a power supply to help him percieve Earth’s magnetic field. Whichever particular buzzer pointed North would vibrate, and thus signal (often embarassingly) to this man the direction of North. While this seemed frustrating for the six weeks that he participated in this study, the man’s heightened perception of direction demonstrated itself when he went biking, noticing the degree that roads wind and developing his own internal position inside a city. He mentioned how he was always able to figure out his way home without the normal memory of which street to turn onto etc. Eventually he could find his own way without getting lost even without the the belt. This was an extremely interesting experiment to me because it demonstrates the brain’s increasing ability to grown and adapt to new stimuli to better prepare for all types of stimuli. It also explains why people have certain percieved fears of the unknown, such as having major discomfort flying on an airplane—being related to the human brain’s spatial disorientation without gravity—or why people who skydive probably lose the ability to feel gravity/feel themselves freefalling after a while, excpet for the the feeling of air on their skin. Overall I am continually impressed with how these stimulations can actually be adjusted to and conditioned against by the brain’s ability to self-modify with enhancements.


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