Sunday, September 14, 2008

The World We Can't See

This is a post off topic, though perhaps a journey through the unknown territory of a major life change produces the need to be philosophical at times. During the digital photography class on Star Island, the instructor did a module on light. Light is, of course, a very important element of good photography, as in any art. But the slide he showed and the discussion took me off in a whole different direction.

Here is the light spectrum, more correctly, the electomagnetic spectrum. The part that is visible to the human eye is a fraction of the known spectrum (I say known because the known spectrum is scientifically proven, but there may be elements at either end that have not yet been discovered). Of course, this is basic science taught in middle school. We know that our microwave and radio operate on invisible (to us) waves---invisible light is all around us. The camera's digital eye sees an even more limited range of light than we do---hence the need to adjust for it to produce photographs that are balanced in a way that is pleasing to the human viewer.

If we extend the example of light to another sense, hearing, we know that animals are able to hear a different range of vibrations from humans---dogs and cats both hear better than we do which probably explains why cats can hear the can opener on a tin of tuna fish from three rooms away. The same is true of the remaining three senses-- there has been recent publicity about dogs' ability to "smell" cancer or illness, as well as a nursing home cat who routinely entered patient rooms and camped out nearby hours before the patient died. The other night Junior bounded up from the bed and focused her attention on the ceiling, her eyes following something around the room. It woke me up, but I didn't see--or hear--a thing.

This train of thought gave me a renewed appreciation for how little we actually take in through our five senses--in the scheme of things, pretty crude instruments with which to ascertain our world. Our brains may have the capacity of 3-10 terabytes, as some scientists have posited, but to the degree that we filter through our senses, it's no wonder that we use a fraction of the brain's capacity. When I contemplate the small and distorted perspective from which I'm seeing things, it brings renewed meaning to that great line from Hamlet: "there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

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