Our missing senses

In the 19thcentury chemistry papers people routinely described how they had eaten or smelled the compounds they were making in the lab. By today’s standards, this practice is foolish, although there are enthusiasts who still resort to this dubious methodology. But let’s dig a little deeper. While tasting the products of one’s synthesis is reckless, let’s remember the teachings of Helmholtz. Among many of his original research contributions is an argument about the role of visual sensation in science (http://study.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/Hermann%20von%20Helmholtz.pdf). All of our scientific advances depend on observations of some kind and they are inevitably visual. Appreciation of everything from numerical values to molecular structure depends on how our retina responds to a stimulus. But is it all there is? Is it enough to solely rely on visual stimuli in our attempts to understand the world? Unfortunately, we do not have many options. The sound, taste, and smell are different from vision but they are not as information-rich when it comes to understanding the matter around us. I wonder if there is a civilization out there that has developed advanced senses other than vision to respond to changes around them and extract meaningful information.

4 thoughts on “Our missing senses

  1. I made a point to taste one of my phd compounds (glucose derived fatty acids). I was hoping it would taste sweet, worried it wouldn’t digest, but in the end all it really led to was this comment.

  2. In relation to this, I wonder if a blind person can do experimental chemistry?
    I have noted that working in the lab with earplugs on (reduced acoustic sense) and having a cold (limited sense of smell) is possible, but increases the risk of something happening without the experimentalist noting it. Some people cannot sense hot/cold. It probably would not prevent them from doing chemistry, but it would add risks.

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