Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What about science?

I’m currently taking a refresher class in Quantum Mechanics at university. No, I’m not a sweet young thing anymore, things change and I’m more like an old fogey desperate to keep the brain cells active but that’s another story. So, last week we’re looking at temperature. Not as straight forward a concept as one might think but that’s not what I wanted to share. During the course of the class, the tutor was referring to the electromagnetic spectrum and specifically the part visible to the human eye. The 400 to around 650 nanometre wavelengths are the ones we see. 

But why? And this is what I found very interesting. 

Our sun’s rays that penetrate the atmosphere peak somewhere in the green spectrum for black body radiation and it’s known that the human eye finds green the easiest colour to see (don’t know how colour blindness fits into this equation by the way). One of the questions postulated was perhaps this is because the sun’s rays peak in this area – therefore, if humanity evolved in a solar system where the star’s (one or even a binary sun system) rays peaked… say… in the blue part of the spectrum would our eyes have evolved to see into the ultraviolet? If the star peaked in the red spectrum, would we see into the infrared? 

My daughter thought it was hilarious when I pointed out that perhaps this is why Superman has x-ray vision.

It lead on to a conversation about rods and cones in the eye and how and when they work. In low light or at night we tend to see things in shades of grey. This is because the cones don’t operate well in low light and we see with the rods. The rods don’t register colour hence we see in shades of grey. However, our peripheral vision and ability to detect motion is sharper at night because the rods are distributed throughout the retina but not in the macula or fovea centralis area that has the densest concentration of cones. 

It got me to thinking about how many people talk of spooky experiences. A flutter in the corner of your eye, a sudden movement in low light that can’t be explained, to full-on spectral activity. In a play of light and motion are we seeing those things that skirt the edges of the capacity of the human eye to detect? Things that are less obvious during good lighting conditions because the cones gives us a higher definition view of life and hold our attention letting the brain tune out the things at the periphery? 

I don’t know the answers, but I did find it interesting to look in more detail at how and what we see and maybe even why.
A long-standing tutor of mine always coined the phrase ‘call it a miracle, call it future science – the decision is yours’. Miracles, the paranormal, the supernatural. As science marches forward into the unknown, we may well end up with more than spaceships, time machines and photon torpedoes. We may end up with real-time measurements for ghosts and other spooky phenomenon that makes me think of one of my favourite series – PsyCops by JCP. 

What are your thoughts on things that go bump in the night and the likelihood of a defining science at some future time that will render some areas of the paranormal normal? Do you see any limits on our favourite subgenres and reality or are we a pre-emptive wave of enlightened souls like those hundreds of years ago who just knew the earth was round and we weren’t the centre of our galaxy?

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