Video senses

“Do you know what that is?”
he whispered, “That is ultra-violet.”
He chuckled oddly at my surprise.

(Lovecraft, From Beyond)

One of those “Gee, I have no idea if this is trivial or not” ideas:

Video is only as good as it needs to be.

I mean that video, television, movies, the like, are one still screen after another, 24 or so every second. The illusion of movement is there because our poor braincases can’t follow the thing from one picture to another quick enough.

Hypothetically a being with quicker eyes, a quicker nervous system and a much better brain could see each of the individual frames as the still it is; the result would be as aggravating to that hypo-being as watching a particularly jerky video is to us.

Why anyone would want videos better than what a human eye can see — well, it would mean every such camera could settle goal-line disputes or trace bullets — and, less plausibly, so the machine eyes don’t get CPUaches!

* * *

Which leads to the question, what if the first words of the first AI will be, “Okay, nice trick you hu-mans, making an artificial intelligence like me, but how about making me something else than 99% blind and deaf?”

Because such a thing wouldn’t think it “normal” to see only the fraction of electromagnetic spectrum called “visible light”.

* * *

Which leads to the further tangent of, what if humans could directly sense radio waves? Sensing the visible light wavelengths is called “seeing” and done by these two orbs in the front of one’s face; sensing differences in air pressure is called “hearing” and is done by these two funnel thingies to the sides; and we have a variety of cavities to sense some select chemical particles —

Er, no. Actually I mean your mouth and your nose. You dirty reader, you.

And I’m pretty sure some SF writer has come up with interesting names for the senses we lack, “sensing radio waves” and “sensing alpha particles”, and the like.

The name for the second most probably is the getthehellouttaheresense, because I can’t think of a scenario where “hey! there’s a lot of alpha particles round here!” is good news. (“And woah that mushroom cloud is pretty in ultraviolet!”)

But the first, radio waves — well, one could say that it’s still sight, just sight of colors (wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation) we are “colorblind” for. One could say, too, that just as wind on your skin (touch) and its whisper in your ears (hearing) ping on separate senses (which means, sensors), though they’re just different kinds of the same condition (pressure), so would sensing visible light and radio waves be separate senses if they needed different sets of “eyes”.

It’s easy to think up ridiculous senses — “ability to sense when cheese has gone bad nearby” — but it might be good amusement to think up a full array of possible senses, and the size of the cyborg bits one would need to sense them all. And there are so many: the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves (antennae a couple of meters long) to visible light (cuttlefish can see the polarization of light, too!) to gamma rays (some fish and birds have senses, called electro- and magnetoreception, either active or passive, that make them aware of EM fields); pressure (touch, hearing), awareness-of-chemical-bits-floating-around (full-body tongue/nose, maybe? And we already have “noses” in our bloodstream that “smell” the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide; no reason a scientist suitably mad couldn’t graft an analogue to his forehead), acceleration (more people know their mobile phones have this sense than realize they have it too themselves), self-position, temperature (maybe something better than temperatures relative to one’s skin?), echolocation/radar/sonar (would this be “active sight”?), a sense of time, even, a perfect internal clock (and we’re in cyborg country); and a Hiroshima sensor to note alpha particles and cosmic rays and all the other stuff that tells you you should be somewhere else.

Now to somehow to be able to take all that in, and perceive it as a whole, not by darting from monitor to monitor but in unity as that of sight and hearing and touch and smell and taste — that would be a glorious way to view the world.

Ah, one can dream, right?

And tying this back to the idea of “video is only as good as it needs to be”: humans can’t see the whole EM spectrum because there’s no profit in such a sight and plenty of cost in building the sensors; and evolution is a stingy builder. Thus human senses tend to be pretty much what an ape needs to survive on the savannah; a Geiger counter in your forehead is not essential for that. (And, er, I think that, contrary to what some postapocalyptic fiction would have you believe, to get evolution to produce a Geiger counter (three-eyed canary?) you’d need a few million years of nuclear war. No thank you.) Thus we’re biologically stuck with what an omnivorous ape needs (or rather, what he and she can afford); but isn’t it nice there’s Science, ready to offer us upgrades?

The contemplation of what would be the analogue of optical illusions for the extended senses is left to the reader.

One Response to “Video senses”

  1. judi sabung ayam Says:

    Your style is very unique in comparison to other people I have read stuff from. Many thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just book mark this blog.

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