Saturday, 28 February 2009

Sense and SenseAbility-2

OUIR FIVE SENSES are attributed to five body organs: touch to skin, hearing to ears, smell to nose, taste to mouth and vision to eyes; it’s a common knowledge. Where does ‘perception’ reside? Obviously it is in the brain, where thoughts occur and flow continuously, sometimes connected, sometimes disconnected or random. There also occur emotions, dreams, daydreams, ideas and concepts (creative and/or destructive)… If observed, there is, as if, infinite space without boundaries, identical to space outside.

The senses and organs do not work in compartments or in departments like manmade occupations and organisations for example, governments, corporations, institutions etc. they work in association or in coordination with other senses and body parts. Just mention a word “tamarind” while talking in a group and someone’s mouth starts watering. Even a memory of an event may raise hair in the skin, or give a vomiting sensation in the breath, or even miss a breath.

The whole body, not only the brain, is a most complex and intricate system; it is right with us to watch. It works smoothly except for our indulgencies (egocentric that we are) by committing various sins or crimes against its functioning. By our indulgencies, by going beyond moderation, we, perhaps, may boast that we patronise many manmade systems and organisations in the name of research and development and progress etc. which give job opportunity to many, including ourselves, and the state, whether monarch, democracy, totalitarian or fundamentalist.

The body, however, is far more superior and sacred than any manmade institution, or machinery – from kitchen gadget to a spaceship. Despite all great inventions and the great leaps in various branches of sciences, thereby technologies, in the context human body (and mind), they are still groping to understand it. The mystery deepens. To compare brain to a computer (artificial intelligence) is preposterous and arrogant.

Some time ago I read an article on senses, “Doors of Perceptions” by Bruce Durie (New scientist, 29 January 2005, p. 34-36), which give a table of several senses. It reports, the scientists have names and added five more senses in addition to the five known to us, which are called “conventional” senses. It may not be out of place to mention them here: Pain, Mechanoreception (balance), Temperature and Interoceptiors (blood pressure). All 10 are further divided into 21 “accepted” (by the scientists) senses, and they are further divided into 33 sub-sub-divisions called “radical”. The article is informative, and does not necessarily advocate them. Thankfully, he adds, ‘they are flawed… the table is incomplete… though in the end, it may not matter at all’.

It was amusing. It reminded me of Indian caste system: four ‘varna’s that that have turned into few hundred castes, sub-castes and sub-sub castes over centuries. And see what kind of mess we have been in!

In modern societies there are classes, occupations, specializations, careers and classes… In sciences alone the specialisations break into several divisions. Of course the division of labour is a basic characteristic of any civilised society (We don’t include any tribal – adivasi – aborigine communities, which still survive, though few, among them).

Hence my perception tells me, more advance a civilised society more the divisions of labour (you may call them varnas, castes, classes or occupations…) more divided (read fragmented / decadent) the society. Though the western society, which thinks itself superior to all societies on the globe, is not an exception; perhaps it’s the worst example (count the wars in the past two centuries; assess the plight of the underclass, which is rarely reported, and the racial and gender atrocities).

A body – human, animal or plant – would not function, not even survive, even to a span of breath, if it has to follow such a prototype of advance civilised society. May God help the clones, morons, zombies to die soon, if any amongst us!

Characteristically the western society (and the westernised) still continues to think in a linear and deductive ways, thus go haywire, as is evident from the “Doors of Perception”. I wonder would they ever complete a cycle – circle? Anyway, till then let them enjoy their adventures and enjoy spending dollars, a plenty that they have earned at the cost of the Earth’s resources as if they alone own her, for the survival of their institutions…

At one place Bruce Durie says, ‘When we talk of senses, what we really mean are feelings or perceptions. Otherwise we would be operating not much above the level of an amoeba or a plant’. This is indeed very sad.

First, our remote ancestor was bacteria from whom the plant and animal world was evolved, even before “pikaia” that swam in the seas long before hominid was born, which scientists agree.
If I have to believe, ‘bacteria live like a superorganism and collectively decide their actions by communication… [A]s with human language, bacteria possess a lexicon, or vocabulary…’ as says another author (Buchnan, Mark. “A billion brains are better than one: a single microbe won’t have much to say for itself. But put a lot of them together and it’s a different story.” New Scientist, Nov 20, 2004: p 34-38) then the statement by Bruce is either wrong or incomplete. Perhaps he operates in different division, which is hardly holistic.

Even before our desi scientist J C Bose (November 30, 1858 – November 23, 1937) discovered in his laboratory, what the Indian peasants have believed, that plants have feelings. Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose claims that plants can “feel pain, understand affection etc.," from the analysis of the nature of variation of the cell membrane potential of plants, under different circumstances. According to him a plant treated with care and affection gives out a different vibration compared to a plant subjected to torture. Perhaps Bruce did not pay attention to this past research and people’s belief.

But science, which exists from the time hominid existed, need not be condemned because no scientist can conclusively proclaim “truth”, and agree with others, and they may not, because they too are human. The entire human race is a miniscule part in the whole schema of Nature.
We shall dig more in the senses in the following posts.

P.S. I am not a scientist. My education in science is up to matriculation that was few decades ago. I am just an ordinary citizen and don’t claim any authority in any subject.

(Link to previous post: Senses and SenseAbility)


Remigius de Souza

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