Limits of Your Senses
by Ron Kurtus (revised 8 October 2000)
What you can sense of the world around you is limited by of a very narrow band of what is possible. Because of this, your perception of reality is biased by these limitations of what you can sense.
Some animals or insects perceive a world that is often very different than what we can see or hear.
Questions you may have include:
- What are limitations of our senses?
- How are our senses limited?
- How does it change our perception of reality?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Limits of our senses
Our senses of vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste, temperature, balance, and 6th sense are all limited. We may also have senses of electrical fields and magnetism, but they are so limited that we can't notice them
Limits of vision
We can only see a certain range of colors. Also, we need the light to be bright enough to see things.
Nocturnal animals, such as owls do not need much light to see at night. On the other hand, they cannot see well in bright sunlight. Humans are just the opposite. Our eyes need more light to see. Some people can see better at night than others. Apparently, a lack of vitamin A can affect ability to see at night.
Of course, there is a limit to the brightness allowed. Looking directly at the sun can injure your eyes.
Range of colors
We consider light to be the combination of colors we can see: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. But if you study wave theory of light, you will know that visible light is just a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. There are animals that detect electromagnetic radiation beyond the limitations of the human eyes, and there are physical detectors that go even beyond what animals can see.
For example, moths and bees detect ultra-violet light, which humans cannot see. The ultra-violet or "black lights" used to make things glow give us just a glimpse of what things look like to these creatures. On the other end of the spectrum, animals that hunt at night are able to see infra-red light. We can use "night scopes" to see the infra-red.
Limits of hearing
Humans, animals and even some insects have a range of wavelengths or pitches they can sense or hear. Within this range, there is also a minimum and maximum volume that can be heard.
Range of volume
There is a minimum volume or loudness of a sound that most people can hear. The ears of dogs and cats are much more sensitive to volume, such that they can hear the rustling of a mouse. Some owls use their hearing to catch prey, too.
A high volume can cause pain and even injury to the ear of a person or animal. Certainly people can withstand higher volumes than many animals. Younger people can hear a wider range of sounds than older people. But listening to very loud music can damage a young persons hearing and reduce the range of sound to less than an old person.
Range of pitch
Just as light is a spectrum of wavelengths, so is sound. The human ears have a limited range of wavelengths or pitches they can detect, while other animals and insects can often sense sounds beyond our range.
Some animals can hear sounds beyond the range of the human ear. Dogs can hear high pitched sounds that humans cannot detect. Likewise, bats use very high pitched chirps to detect prey, which are beyond the human range of hearing.
On the other hand, elephants communicate with extreme low pitched sounds. Scientists in Africa noticed elephants would suddenly perk their ears and go off running in a direction. They heard a very low pitched sound given off by other elephants that humans could not detect. They could hear those sounds up to 5 miles (7.5 km) away.
Limits of touch
Obviously, when something barely touches your skin, you may not detect it or feel it. An example is when a mosquito lands on your skin. You often don't feel anything until she starts to suck your blood. On the other end of the scale, there may be pressures that are so great that they damage your sensors in your skin and injure you.
There really have not been any good studies on the sensitivity of touch for animals or insects.
Limits of 6th sense
This is an interesting area. It seems that there is a 6th sense, although many scientist do not believe it, because it hasn't been proven. Also, there is the problem that we don't know the form of energy nor where the sense exists.
What we do know is that some people seem to be more sensitive the the 6th sense signals than are other people.
Limits of taste and smell
There are only certain chemicals and molecules that we can taste or smell. Also, the amount of the material must be such that we can detect it. Dogs have more sensitive noses than humans. Not only can they detect smaller amounts of a substance, they can also smell compounds that we can't.
Have a different perception
The fact that there are things in the world that we cannot see, hear, smell, feel, or sense in some other manner, affects our perception of the world around us. Many animals sense things much different than us. Some people—like those with a more sensitive 6th sense—also may perceive the world differently. Obviously, those deprived of a sense—like a blind person—also perceives the world different that most people (See When You are Deprived of Senses).
The use of some devices has helped us increase the range of what we can sense, as well as our perception of the world. These devices give us a different viewpoint. A good example of this is the use of radio telescopes in astronomy to see objects in space that our visual telescopes cannot detect. The view of the Universe is different than we thought, because of using a device to go beyond the limitations of our senses. (See Devices to Extend Your Senses).
Your senses are limited by their threshold and by the bandwidth of information they provide. This limits our perception of the world. Other animals and beings may have a completely different viewpoint of the world around us.
Don't limit your knowledge
Resources and references
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Limits of Your Senses