The process of reconciling the knowledge I get from my senses with what is recorded by external devices fascinates me. I think that there’s a charged spaced between these two approaches that is fertile ground to grow new ideas. Here, we are tasked to make sense of the world from this odd combination of what we directly perceive and what we are indirectly told. And figuring out which of these two modes to trust is becoming increasingly challenging as we are presented with more and more options. Information overload.
Our typical categorization of the senses—the tools we’ve evolved to gather physiological data about the world—are comprised of a five-part system: touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight. While some have argued that other senses also exist (and perhaps we underuse them due to our failure at naming them), it does seem clear that our perception has limits. There are things in this universe that we can’t directly sense.
We do have means to make up for this though: our brains are capable of digesting information that is very different to the inputs we receive from our senses. This data might come from stories and ideas that other people tell us, or information harvested by technologies that record what we couldn’t sense. But like our senses, our ability to make sense of it all certainly has limits as well.
Humanity continues to develop more and more technologies that allow us to dig deeper as we gather and record vast amounts of information about the world. These range from familiar tools such as cameras and microphones to specialized remote sensors made to record in locations that are inaccessible to our senses or to register types of information that our senses can’t, like detecting subatomic particles or the temperatures on the surface of the sun. Using logic, statistics, experimentation, and intuition (among other tools) our brains, bodies, and computers then process this information. The results form our perception of the world and the diverse variety of schemata used to intellectualize all of this data.
Often, we are not even conscious of much of this information processing. It’s called a number of things, such as intuition or faith. These abstractions based on the information we gather... When it’s cold, you might get goose bumps. Other responses are conscious, and often simple and practical: if it’s raining outside (or if the weatherman tells us it might rain later) we bring along a raincoat or an umbrella. More deeply in human natural history, there is some evidence that we may have evolved to hear birdsong and use it as an indicator of an ecosystem's fecundity. But today, perception of the world around us is formed by complex sets of stimuli from internal and external sources. And it is already impossible to separate the two.