Creating new senses for humans

I just watched this TED talk with David Eagleman, and I am impressed, astonished and excited for the future of our species.

After seeing all the different ways our brain is able to process sensory input in this video, I am convinced that Eagleman’s ‘Mr. Potato-head’ analogy is not far off at all.

If blind people can learn to see via electromagnetic impulses on their tongue, then why shouldn’t I be able to learn to sense electromagnetic waves, or ultraviolet light, or radio waves in some similar fashion? Our brain is so adaptable at interpreting sensory input, that I can see a future where people can pick and choose what senses they want equipped at any time. If it’s dark out, turn on your heat vision, which you feel via vibrations on your fingertips, or in your forehead, or any other number of options.

Eagleman also goes into possibilities that I found extremely interesting from a sci fi perspective. He talks about having, for example, instrumentation on a space shuttle be connected to sensory input, so instead of reading charts and graphs and counting numbers or ratios, you just feel when something is wrong, on a gut or instinctual level. The same way you are aware of your own body and when something is wrong with it.

This really interested me because this is how I, and a lot of people, think naturally. I don’t always know why I make a certain decision at the time I make it, I just know that it feels right. Only afterwards, when I try to analyse my feelings, do i realize all the underlying information that lead to the decision. But the feeling comes instantly. The calculations are done on some subjective level and I’m left with what I can only call a ‘gut instinct’ at the time it happens.

Now imagine if you were getting sensory information about the altitude of the plane you are flying, as well as the speed of the winds outside, the condition of the engines, the state of the crew, the fuel levels, your speed–Imagine you could ‘feel’ all of this. And then imagine something goes wrong. Your instincts are going to take over much more efficiently if you can feel your altitude dropping instead of seeing it on a gauge. If you can feel all these inputs at once, and your brain is allowed to process it all on a subconscious level, you may even get that ‘gut instinct’ about the decision to make. And this time you’d know your brain has all the information it needs to make the right decision.

Our brain does a lot more behind the scenes than we are even aware of, and the more tools we give it to work with, the more it can accomplish. This kind of technology has me excited for the future, and I think I’ll be paying very close attention to Eagleman’s work from now on.

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