Re color being in the eye of the beholder: definitely. That’s indeed the point…that I think the road to our color-perception began in the sea, at depth, very, very early. That it was somewhat accidental—caused by thin-skinned creatures who have hemoglobin, the red pigment in blood…and who, circulating it through that skin, became red. Blushing. The redder they were, my theory runs, the safer they were from the very primitive eyesight of very primitive predators. So being ‘red’ was survival positive. ‘Blue’ parts of the solar spectrum can go deeper in the water than ‘red’, —physics: length of the light waves: the energy of blue long waves goes deeper into the sea—
This means that the reflected color our eyes read as ‘red’ in sunlight (red flowers, blood, roserock, etc) is nearly impossible to see in the ocean depths. These ‘red’ creatures never surface—the vampire squid and its ilk are deepwater dwellers.
My point is that the survival advantage of prey BEING red in the depths may have helped the survival of red color in creatures that eventually made it to the upper reaches of the ocean, and ultimately onto land. The survival advantage of a predator being able to SEE red may have started where actual sunlight reaches. No more invisibility cloak—the prey that is invisible at depth is not invisible to a certain predator who can perceive that color, ergo eats better, breeds more often, and survives.
Of course perception in hunters could be pressure-sensitivity: ie, feeling the waves of the prey swimming. But that dissipates over distance. Limited usefulness. Could be what we call ‘hearing’ —sensitivity to pressure waves hitting little bones in the skull — the ears…has a longer range, but is subject to fading with distance and likewise echoes; or the ‘stellar-magnitude’ problem—is that a bright star, or a near star? Is that the vibration of a big thing far off or a little thing real close?
Elephants have been talking for ages—and we’ve only recently heard it. Those big feet are picking up vibrations in the earth made by what we call subsonics. Their rumbling can communicate over great distances. And it’s too low for our ears. We have to use instruments to pick it up.
And speed. Birdsong, if played at very slow speeds, has a lot more content than we can sort out with our hearing. Scientist have also found a lot of compression in dolphin squeals.
Scent? Disperses over distance, but dogs have developed it marvelously. To follow an air scent hours old is far more than we can do. We cannot easily imagine the texture of the world of a dog.
The fact that hemoglobin, which gets its color from iron, is the distinguishing feature of a rich food source AND the source of the first color would make a certain sense. Color was not important per se, but color as camouflage might begin there—and color as a predator sense might begin there. The red things are the richest. We who can be prey didn’t grow a thicker skin until our distant ancestors rose out of the ocean depths into the sunlight: then we had to hide that hemoglobin, because it tempted predators.
If you’ll recall, I had the majat seeing colors humans can’t, seeing patterns imperceptible to human eyes. Their recognition of these patterns matters to them. That’s why the Kontrin graft majat jewels into their skin.
We humans have a very highly refined ‘color sight’ and it has come to take up a lot of neural circuits. But trying to determine whether animals perceive certain ranges of the solar spectrum is harder. Clearly bees don’t have rods and cones, yet they see something we can’t see well: we have to enhance it. How do you tell whether the neural network IS perceiving a color? You can map electrochemical changes going on…you can say…it’s reacting. But when the electrochemical changes get to the brain…and trigger something…what is the nature of that reaction? And do we call it color?
Synaesthesia is the evocation of, say, blue, by a smell. Certain psychoactive drugs can do that—hence the ‘trip’ in which the senses are scrambled and the brain is trying frantically to get its normal input. We intellectually know blue isn’t a smell. When you get into the soft tissue of the brain—we have an organization, a normal routing, that discriminates and orders our universe.
How does a person recognize a smell? It’s rather interesting: the olfactory bulb sits down at the brain stem…early, early architecture, and unlike the higher brain, it’s not bilaterally divided: it’s THAT old, and it’s absolute. If you’re exposed to a smell, certain neurons in it fire. It’s like a constellation. It’s unique. So if you smell it repeatedly, the receptors run out of energy and have to recharge; but the neurons of that pattern will fire again when those receptors are triggered in that pattern: it’s basically a hardwired, programmable chemistry-analyzer installed at the base of the brain, responsive to tissues in the nose and mouth (we do some smelling with the mouth). It’s why the first scent (or taste: the senses are linked) of things is strongest. We have the wiring to discriminate more than we do. But the intellect dismisses its importance. You smell nutmeg. You intellectually know what that is and how it tastes. A year later you have a pudding. And a lot of smell-taste neurons are firing at the base of the brain. You taste eggs. Cream/milk. Sugar. And the ‘nutmeg’ constellation has also fired. It shares some neurons with other things. But you start rummaging for associations that have to do not with damp wood and moss, but with spices. And the brain queries the olfactory bulb as the body takes another mouthful of pudding. Yep. Re-fire that. The conscious brain remembers, now, but the olfactory bulb never ‘forgot’. The pattern, chemically mediated, is always that pattern. We share that with the bloodhound, whose nose is amazingly convolute and who has far, far, far more tissue inside it. Its brain is constantly in touch with the olfactory bulb: it’s got that territory mapped. It lives in a constant bath of sensation and recognition. If the receptors didn’t get tired (run out of energy) the poor dogs would probably stand sniffing the same daisy lifelong. But those neurons give it up—and the dog moves on. We have our mouthful of pudding, and the experienced cook, used to accessing that area of the brain, says: “Nutmeg! That’s what it is!” and thinks he can probably, by the time he finishes this pudding, tell ‘in what proportion’ everything in it may be. He could go home and cook that recipe. And when he does, he’ll be tasting his work, accessing that old record in his olfactory bulb and saying, “Just a single shake more. That should do it.”
Smokers do lose so very much. I always wonder on those cooking-competition shows just how on earth these chain-smokers can possibly operate as chefs. And they usually DON’T win. A master chef’s brain has quite a library of tastes stored—and using that fabulous human frontal brain, he can assemble a construction of air and imagination, and ‘taste’ and ‘smell’ it in his head before he even reaches for the spice rack.
Senses are how we contact the universe. And yet we, and most matter, are stretched so very thin that atomic particles can pass through us constantly with the figurative room of a football field on all sides. We’re empty space, mostly, that can interact with other moving empty spaces and gather information into an architecture that is definitely ‘us’ as opposed to, say, Fido, or a table. We’re a constant wonder, protoplasm that ‘made good’ in our cosmic neighborhood.