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Home » Can We Create New Senses For Humans? – David Eagleman (Transcript)

Can We Create New Senses For Humans? – David Eagleman (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of neuroscientist David Eagleman’s talk titled “Can We Create New Senses For Humans?” at TED conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


The Marvel of Perception and Reality

We are built out of very small stuff, and we are embedded in a very large cosmos, and the fact is that we are not very good at understanding reality at either of those scales. That’s because our brains haven’t evolved to understand the world at that scale. Instead, we’re trapped on this very thin slice of perception right in the middle.

But it gets strange, because even at that slice of reality that we call home, we’re not seeing most of the action that’s going on. So take the colors of our world. This is light waves, electromagnetic radiation that bounces off objects and it hits specialized receptors in the back of our eyes. But we’re not seeing all the waves out there. In fact, what we see is less than a 10 trillionth of what’s out there.

So you have radio waves and microwaves and X-rays and gamma rays passing through your body right now and you’re completely unaware of it, because you don’t come with the proper biological receptors for picking it up. There are thousands of cell phone conversations passing through you right now, and you’re utterly blind to it.

Now, it’s not that these things are inherently unseeable. Snakes include some infrared in their reality, and honeybees include ultraviolet in their view of the world, and of course we build machines in the dashboards of our cars to pick up on signals in the radio frequency range, and we built machines in hospitals to pick up on the X-ray range.

Beyond Human Perception

But you can’t sense any of those by yourself, at least not yet, because you don’t come equipped with the proper sensors. Now, what this means is that our experience of reality is constrained by our biology, and that goes against the common sense notion that our eyes and our ears and our fingertips are just picking up the objective reality that’s out there. Instead, our brains are sampling just a little bit of the world.

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