Keith Kendrick: Beasts have more sense than we do

From an open lecture given by the Gresham Professor of Physic at Gresham College, in London

Monday 03 February 2003 01:00

We do not sense the world as it is but merely as our sense organs interpret it within the limitations of their design.

A species develops only the specific senses, ranges of detection and levels of sensitivity that are required for its members to interact successfully with the environment and to survive.

Only humans have taken the step of developing sophisticated artificial sensors to detect chemical molecules, light particles, sound waves and electromagnetic energy beyond our own biological sensory capacities. However, for all our amazing inventiveness, other species have evolved equivalent, or even superior, biological abilities to sense cues from the environment that are only available to us with the aid of machines.

The increased importance of touch in mammals that rely more on this sense than vision and hearing is illustrated by the large amount of brain dedicated to processing touch-information relative to areas dealing with sight and sound.

The different sensory capacities of other species can explain many of their apparent supernatural abilities, such as communicating over incredible distances, locating small objects in the dark and detecting buried objects and environmental changes, such as storms and earthquakes, long before we can.

It remains an intriguing possibility that, for some animal species, their experiences of the world they inhabit might be more routinely multisensory than our own.

The different sensory equipment makes the experience that other species have of the world rather different from our own. The same world can, and does, seem very different to a dog compared to a human.

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