Tuesday, March 16, 2010

[Yasmin_discussions] multisensory perception

Hi all,
Picking up on some of the lines of thought ... one of the struggles for
science is that while we appreciate that we are always sensing
simulanaeously with all our senses and we know this is appreciated
distinctly by individuals and that all this sensing occurs in a cultural
context and expressed through different use of language, we are still
struggling to move our approaches from single mode reductionist
experiments to a system approach. Sad but true. For example, Ian
earlier reminded us that we perceive with our brains not with our eye,
ears and nose etc while Sergio more recently took this further to remind
us that we perceive as people not just as brains. It all gets a bit
hard to deal with, so many variables and so many inputs. Our
reductionist framework can't cope. But maybe all these sensory inputs
are a bit much for our brains or even us as people to deal with too,
even if they are just from one sensory type nevermind multisensory.

It turns out that bees, for example, when asked to learn a mixure of
odorants only bother learning a subset of the compounds, even though
they are capable of detecting and learning all of the compounds
individually. Here's the paper.
In fact bees have a very sensitive and wide-ranging sense of smell aided
by their large (for insects) repetoire of olfactory receptors. But what
makes a key set of compounsd ..well it seems to vary depending on the
mixture and doesn't follow any rules of chemistry such as being a
structurally dissimilar set of compounds compared with the rest in the
mixture. Furthermore, when the number of compounds in the mixture is
reduced down to say 3 compounds the bees now start learning them all.
So it seems the bees are tunning their sensory system, or at least their
sense of smell, based on experience and that this tuning is a rough
approximation of the sensory input, especially when it starts getting
complex ... its as good as it needs to be to distinguish among other

So how much are we as humans doing this. We certainly tune or train our
senses. Our sensing scientist train people everyday (many using
chocolate and wine as far as I can work out). But is this training an
approximation of the true sensory input, as good as it needs to be, a
shorthand of the real. And when we perceive those multiple senses are
we doing the same, creating approximaztions to refer to later or using
previously learned key subsets of stimulation.


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