Filtered for supersenses

20.41, Wednesday 27 Jul 2022

1.

Acoustic Kitty, a project by the CIA from the 1960s.

Premise: cats are cute and pretty much allowed to wander anywhere. So, give one a wireless mic, let it loose near the Russian embassy, and…

It cost $15m.

They slit the cat open, put batteries in him, wired him up. The tail was used as an antenna. They made a monstrosity. They tested him and tested him. They found he would walk off the job when he got hungry, so they put another wire in to override that.

However:

They took it out to a park and pointed it at a park bench and said, ‘Listen to those two guys…’ They put him out of the van, and a taxi comes and runs him over.

And that was that. Poor puss.

Unredacted has the original memo and more: Document Friday: Acoustic Kitty (2010).

2.

57 supersenses from Scientology:

In the late 70s, L. Ron Hubbard wrote down a list of 57 superhuman senses he claimed were possessed by thetans which people who were “clear” (free of unwanted engrams, or harmful memories) could learn how to utilize. The full list is below…

Sight, Taste, Sound, etc.

Gravity and Solidity are in the list. I get that; maps well to our built-in awareness of surface affordances.

Pain, Rhythm, Heartbeat.

Now a heartbeat sense is a good one! From a study in 2016:

  • Financial traders on a London trading floor are better able to estimate their own heartbeat than the general population
  • A trader’s ability to tell their own heartbeat is a predictor of their relative profitability.

Know thyself, eh. Here’s the paper: Interoceptive Ability Predicts Survival on a London Trading Floor.

Some others:

  • Awareness of importance (salience, ok I buy that)
  • Compass direction (we have a north sense? I’ll buy that too)
  • Perception of conclusions (very Terence McKenna/Omega Point)
  • Perception of computation (not sure what this means)

It’s interesting what happens once you frame something as a sense.

You start thinking about what’s immediately available vs what has to be figured out.

And there is a ton that our body/brain makes immediately available. Worth training I think.

BONUS LINK: I gave a talk back in 2006 imaging a new kind of web browser, inventing features by riffing off various human senses. L. Ron Hubbard’s list gets a mention about halfway through. Still a fun read. Here’s the whole thing: Making Senses.

3.

Returning to a post from a while back: Do humans have a north sense? (2020)

Because it seems like we do. One possibility, that I mentioned then: Humans are sensitive to polarised light – there’s apparently something called Haidinger’s brush which is a yellowish bow-tie shape, visible against the blue sky. Seems mythical.

WELL.

To see Haidinger’s brushes for yourself, look at a blank white portion of an LCD screen on a computer, tablet or phone. Tilt your head from side to side and faint yellow and blue bow-ties, slightly larger than your thumb, should become visible. With practice, you can then see them in the blue parts of the sky at 90 degrees from the sun, particularly at sunrise and sunset.

I can see them!

I mean it took 10 minutes sitting in a cafe staring at my laptop screen and repeatedly cocking my head back and forth, like an absolute goon, but I can see Haidinger’s brushes!

The yellow bow-tie sits at a 45 degree angle, and if I tilt my head the other way, it flips to sit at 45 degrees the other way. A blueish bow-tie sits across it at right angles.

Spotting the brushes is the weirdest feeling. There are all kinds of colour variations in the world, the whole time. Surface imperfections, variations of light and shadow, floaters in my eye, whatever, so there is a whole layer of visual perception that I unconsciously dismiss as noise. So I have to re-see that noise, somehow, and dig through it, and realise that - no - this isn’t just unimportant visual static, it’s an artefact of polarised light! Even then I keep dismissing it, by habit. But, with some practice…

WHAT ELSE IS HIDDEN IN THE INFORMATION WE THROW AWAY.

Fnord.

That article goes on to say how Haidinger’s brushes appear in the sky: the long axis of the yellow bow-tie will point approximately towards the sun.

4.

Apparently a barn owl can hear a mouse’s heartbeat from 20 feet.

Was told in a show about owls. Can’t find a reference. Seems plausible though. Also:

The facial disk of an owl, made up of stiff feathers, collects sound and directs the sound waves to the owl’s offset ears. Owls’ ears are offset relative to each other. The offset helps the owl determine direction and distance using stereographic acoustic location.

That would be a useful hat to market in these days of social distancing.

Just a wearable acoustic mirror, like a bowl around my face, in a fashionable cut ofc, that would let me comfortably hear what you’re saying even when we’re a couple of feet further apart than normal. A portable whispering gallery.

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