I shall here insert a problem of that very ingenious and studious promoter of real knowledge, the learned and worthy Mr. Molyneux, which he was pleased to send me in a letter some months since; and it is this:- "Suppose a man born blind, and now adult, and taught by his touch to distinguish between a cube and a sphere of the same metal, and nighly of the same bigness, so as to tell, when he felt one and the other, which is the cube, which the sphere. Suppose then the cube and sphere placed on a table, and the blind man be made to see: quaere, whether by his sight, before he touched them, he could now distinguish and tell which is the globe, which the cube?" To which the acute and judicious proposer answers, "Not. For, though he has obtained the experience of how a globe, how a cube affects his touch, yet he has not yet obtained the experience, that what affects his touch so or so, must affect his sight so or so; or that a protuberant angle in the cube, that pressed his hand unequally, shall appear to his eye as it does in the cube."- I agree with this thinking gentleman, whom I am proud to call my friend, in his answer to this problem; and am of opinion that the blind man, at first sight, would not be able with certainty to say which was the globe, which the cube, whilst he only saw them; though he could unerringly name them by his touch, and certainly distinguish them by the difference of their figures felt. This I have set down, and leave with my reader, as an occasion for him to consider how much he may be beholden to experience, improvement, and acquired notions, where he thinks he had not the least use of, or help from them. And the rather, because this observing gentleman further adds, that "having, upon the occasion of my book, proposed this to divers very ingenious men, he hardly ever met with one that at first gave the answer to it which he thinks true, till by hearing his reasons they were convinced.
Both technological sensors and enhanced biological senses come equipped with databases of scanned “signatures” that make it easier to identify whatever the user is sensing (in the case of bioware, these databases are stored and accessed via the character’s mesh inserts). For example, infrared sensors feature databases listing the heat signatures of different animals and items, making it easier to identify such things. In relevant situations, apply a 20 modifier for identifying targets sensed this way.
The next care to be taken, in respect of the Senses, is a supplying of their infirmities with Instruments, and, as it were, the adding of artificial Organs to the natural; this in one of them has been of late years accomplisht with prodigious benefit to all sorts of useful knowledge, by the invention of Optical Glasses. By the means of Telescopes, there is nothing so far distant but may be represented to our view; and by the help of Microscopes, there is nothing so small, as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible World discovered to the understanding. By this means the Heavens are open'd, and a vast number of new Stars, and new Motions, and new Productions appear in them, to which all the ancient Astronomers were utterly Strangers. By this the Earth it self, which lyes so neer us, under our feet, shews quite a new thing to us, and in every little particle of its matter, we now behold almost as great a variety of creatures as we were able before to reckon up on the whole Universe it self.
The human senses (above all, that of hearing) do not possess one set of constant parameters, to be measured independently, one at a time. It is even questionable whether the various 'senses' are to be regarded as separate, independent detectors. The human organism is one integrated whole, stimulated into response by physical signals; it is not to be thought of as a box, carrying various independent pairs of terminals labeled 'ears', 'eyes', 'nose', et cetera.
When carbon (C), Oxygen (o) and hydrogen (H) atoms bond in a certain way to form sugar, the resulting compound has a sweet taste. The sweetness resides neither in the C, nor in the O, nor in the H; it resides in the pattern that emerges from their interaction. It is an emergent property. Moreover, strictly speaking, is not a property of the chemical bonds. It is a sensory experience that arises when the sugar molecules interact with the chemistry of our taste buds, which in turns causes a set of neurons to fire in a certain way. The experience of sweetness emerges from that neural activity.
There is no way to interpolate between two smell molecules. True, odors can be mixed together to form millions of scents. But the world’s smells can’t be broken down into just a few numbers on a gradient; there is no “smell pixel.” Think of it this way: colors and sounds can be measured with rulers, but odors must be looked up in a dictionary.
A consciousness of the fallacy of our senses is one of the most important consequences of the study of nature. This study teaches us that no object is seen by us in its true place, owing to aberration; that the colours of substances are solely the effects of the action of matter upon light; and that light itself, as well as heat and sound, are not real beings, but modes of action communicated to our perceptions by the nerves. The human frame may therefore be regarded as an elastic system, the different parts of which are capable of … vibrating in unison with any number of superposed undulations, all of which have their perfect and independent effect. Here our knowledge ends; the mysterious influence of matter on mind will in all probability be for ever hid from man.
We make models in science, but we also make them in everyday life. Model-dependent realism applies not only to scientific models but also to the conscious and subconscious mental models we all create in order to interpret and understand the everyday world. There is no way to remove the observer—us—from our perception of the world, which is created through our sensory processing and through the way we think and reason. Our perception—and hence the observations upon which our theories are based—is is not direct, but rather is shaped by a kind of lens, the interpretive structure of our human brains.
Model-dependent realism corresponds to the way we perceive objects. In vision, one's brain receives a series of signals down the optic nerve. Those signals do not constitute the sort of image you would accept on your television. There is a blind spot where the optic nerve attaches to the retina, and the only part of your field of vision with good resolution is a narrow area of about i degree of visual angle around the retina's center, an area the width of your thumb when held at arm's length. And so the raw data sent to the brain are like a badly pixilated picture with a hole in it. Fortunately, the human brain processes that data, combining the input from both eyes, filling in gaps on the assumption that the visual properties of neighboring locations are similar and interpolating. Moreover, it reads a two-dimensional array of data from the retina and creates from it the impression of three-dimensional space. The brain, in other words, builds a mental picture or model.
The brain is so good at model building that if people are fitted with glasses that turn the images in their eyes upside down, their brains, after a time, change the model so that they again see things the right way up. If the glasses are then removed, they see the world upside down for a while, then again adapt. This shows that what one means when one says "I see a chair" is merely that one has used the light scattered by the chair to build a mental image or model of the chair. If the model is upside down, with luck one's brain will correct it before one tries to sit on the chair.
For it is a false assertion that the sense of man is the measure of things. On the contrary, all perceptions as well of the sense as of the mind are according to the measure of the individual and not according to the measure of the universe. And the human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.
One trick our brains use to figure out the location of a sound is to compare the time it takes to reach each ear. For example, sound waves emanating from a wind chime located to your right will reach your right ear a few milliseconds earlier than they reach your left ear, and the brain uses this small timing difference to compute exactly how far to your right the chime is located. Researchers have capitalized on this timing difference to test sound localization, using a special experimental trick known as the precedence effect: by playing the same sound, slightly separated in time, out of two loudspeakers located on either side of a subject, they produce the illusion that it is located to the left or the right. When older children or adults hear such a sound sequence—with, say, the right speaker preceding the left by several milliseconds—they perceive the sound as coming from the right. Newborns, however, fail miserably at the precedence effect. They are unable to use timing differences to calculate the location of a sound until about three or four months of age, when the cerebral cortex becomes fully engaged in the process. (But newborns can detect differences in loudness between the two ears, which is the cue they use to localize sounds in the horizontal plane.)