Why the World Never Shuts Up
Marcelo Magnasco is the Head of the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at Rockefeller University, where he leads a group of physicists who use living beings as a source of inspiration for creating new mathematical descriptions of nature. His work often looks at many aspects of sensory processing, including auditory, visual and olfactory. Dr. Magnasco graduated from the National University of La Plata in Argentina with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1987. He received his Ph.D. in physics from The University of Chicago in 1992.
Question: Have any of the senses had a more profound evolutionary significance?
Marcelo Magnasco: I wouldn’t say that of our senses is more powerful than the other. All of them are necessary for their own intended purposes right. So vision has certain special attributes. It’s very high resolution in the amount of information it conveys to the brain per unit of time. It also requires the brain to really interpret the scene it’s looking at in ways that requires an amount of time. Hearing is closer to the sense of smell in having a privilege connection to the motions. It’s much more easy to have a sound that changes our emotional stance than to have a visual scene that changes our emotional stance. And it’s sort of much more automatic right everybody is familiar with the calming sound of rain on a roof top or the alarm that the roar of lion will give you so you know it’s very common to go to the zoo and see the kids you know looking at the lion and then the lion roars and all of the kids go scampering out okay because looking at the lion is much more of an intellectual thing than actually hearing the roar of the lion that the brain has been evolved to actually fear and that’s why we actually use alarm clocks to wake us up. The hearing sense is on all the time right. We recognize sounds as we sleep and they will wake us up from sleep if need be. so they serve very different purposes all the senses right. I believe it was Helen Keller who was both blind and deaf that said that blindness separated her from things while deafness separated her from people and that of the two senses the most devastating lack was the lack of communication with other people so this is one of the ways in which you can see that the senses really have different use and different power.
From an evolutionary perspective, it makes far more sense to have sound capable of changing emotional states rather than vision or smell. Hence our hearing never really turns off, even when we sleep.
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