Animals “see” electromagnetic fields

Human senses allow us access to “information” about the world outside of ourselves. Our senses are based on human evolution and the needs of being human. We can’t possibly perceive everything going on around us but we perceive the things that were relevant for our evolutionary past. The same is true for other species whose senses allow them access to other information we can’t perceive. Sometimes these senses are more acute than human senses like a dog’s sense of smell and sometimes these senses allow access to information that is inaccessible to our inborn senses.

Here are two new articles about animals that can perceive electromagnetic fields. Do they “see” them the way we see visible light? Some interesting speculation about how that might work and what it might look like.

Birds Can See Earth’s Magnetic Fields, And We Finally Know How That’s Possible

“The mystery behind how birds navigate might finally be solved: it’s not the iron in their beaks providing a magnetic compass, but a newly discovered protein in their eyes that lets them “see” Earth’s magnetic fields.”



The surprising pattern behind color names around the world

“In 1969, two Berkeley researchers, Paul Kay and Brent Berlin, published a book on a pretty groundbreaking idea: that every culture in history, when they developed their languages, invented words for colors in the exact same order. They claimed to know this based off of a simple color identification test, where 20 respondents identified 330 colored chips by name. If a language had six words, they were always black, white, red, green, yellow, and blue. If it had four terms, they were always black, white, red, and then either green or yellow. If it had only three, they were always black, white, and red , and so on. The theory was revolutionary — and it shaped our understanding of how color terminologies emerge.”

Using virtual reality to promote empathy

This article brings together many concepts from TOK including the role of sense perception and its connection to our emotions as well as the role of perspective in acquiring knowledge and the power of shifting perspectives.

“This article, by leading social entrepreneur Dr Alexandra Ivanovitch, explores how VR works in practice, the cognitive and psychological mechanisms underlying VR, and its potential application in the field of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. She reviews cutting-edge scientific research on how VR creates a “body ownership illusion” and “embodied cognition”, which help us transcend neurophysiological limitations inherent to our own point of view, and to adopt the perspective of another human being. The article also discusses experiments that show VR can reduce biases, build empathy and encourage prosocial behavior. Dr Ivanovitch calls for collaboration between technology, science and art to identify ways that immersive technology can be used to strengthen peace.”

What are the limits of human vision?

“Wondrous as it is, our sense of vision is clearly not without certain limitations. We can no more see radio waves emanating from our electronic devices than we can spot the wee bacteria right under our noses. But with advances in physics and biology, we can test the fundamental limits of natural vision. “Everything you can discern has a threshold, a lowest level above which you can and below which you can’t,” says Michael Landy, professor of psychology and neural science at New York University. ”

The Women with Superhuman Vision

“A tiny group of people can see ‘invisible’ colours that no-one else can perceive, discovers David Robson. How do they do it?”

“Today, she knows that this is a symptom of a condition known as “tetrachromacy”. Thanks to a variation in a gene that influences the development of their retinas, people like Antico can see colours invisible to most of us. Consider a pebble pathway. What appears dull grey to you or me shines like a jeweller’s display to Antico. “The little stones jump out at me with oranges, yellows, greens, blues and pinks,” she says. “I’m kind of shocked when I realise what other people aren’t seeing.””