U is for Unseen World

| April 22, 2014

Particularly in a city like New York, there are times when we feel overwhelmed with sensory stimulation. The multitude of city lights, adverts, the high-pitched sounds of screaming sirens, the pungent smell (and sometimes taste!) of pollution and myriad of angry commuters bumping into you can sometimes be too much to handle. And to think that the perceptual apparatus nature has endowed us with only allows us to acknowledge a very small fraction of what is actually going on around us. Think of vision, for example. As humans, we are only capable of seeing objects that reflect energy which lies within the range of the visible light spectrum (about 390 to 700 nm in terms of electromagnetic radiation wavelength). But just imagine the amount of things which exist outside this range! Imagine being able to see the infrared rays emitted by your remote control, or all of the radiation emitted by everyone’s i-phone. What would it be like to be able to see things which which are too small (like the bacteria covering every single surface we are surrounded with), too fast or too slow for human perception to capture? Undoubtedly, this would be an aesthetic experience which is too intense, too powerful to handle. This is perhaps the reason for which evolution has granted us with the ability to see only what is useful to our survival. If we where in fact able to see things which are too small, fast, slow or simply invisible, we would be so distracted by our surroundings we’d probably give up trying to get to work altogether. Nonetheless, the fact we coexist so tightly with things whose existence we are simply not aware of is a fascinating idea. I strongly suggest you go and see the movie “Mysteries of the Unseen World”, shown in 3D at the American Museum of Natural History’s iMax theatre to get a small taste of what, given the restrictions of human perception, we are missing.