DiscoverTED Radio HourThe Five Senses

The Five Senses

Update: 2017-01-205


The five senses shape all our experience, but we still don't fully understand them. This episode, TED speakers explore how our brains make sense of sensation, and how our minds manufacture 'reality.'

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support for this podcast in the following message come from GoDaddy dot com offering small business owners everything they need to get their business online including award winning twenty four seven support to get started go to GoDaddy dot com slash podcast and use code Ted thirty this the is the Head Radio Hour each week groundbreaking Ted talks Technology Design at Stanford delivered and Ted conferences around the world gift of the human had to believe in impossible the true nature of reality beckons just beyond those talks those ideas adapted for radio NPR guy Rush the Show today ideas about the five senses smell touch taste sight and sound and that we might think our senses help us experience reality as it is most of the signals they send our personal and highly subjective and that means the way each of us perceive the world around us is unique so let's start with found our place and for you Wanda came to Quito with this as I value the yummy Rye what's the what's a g Army the If I got my neighbor's room this is Wanda Diaz Moore said she's an astronomer from the vehicle and that Sasha just described a Gamma ray burst that would become a key that unlocked a whole world was closed off to London in the story of how that happened starts when she was that nineteen one there was a student at College in Maine where she was super into science was doing my physics in my mathematics but the back of my head my thought was I would be comical or leg I general practitioner but around this time one day I started having problems mornings in class by her friends would be asked her why her hair wasn't done right and just started tripping a lot she had scrapes all over her knees so she went to see a doctor when I go to the doctor remains is because I'm already having blind spots are so loud you start to notice blind spots in your visual field yes the one I was born with diabetes and it turned out because of a rare complication the disease was slowly destroying her editors and then we begun to treat maintain its own and so forth but the treatment was just delaying the inevitable time Wanda turned twenty nine she was completely blind but all this time she never abandoned her passion for physics and math even though she gave up on the idea of becoming a doctor she found another passion which was astronomy and one day decided she wanted to study the cosmos but as she explained in the Ted stage her blindness made it impossible for her to read any astronomical data on the beefy one that should a series of data points plotted on a graph which was data from a dying star in remake that I could go see this kind of plot but then I lost my sight and with it I lost the opportunity to see the flood and professionally it left me without a way to my science I don't access and scrutinize these energetic light and figure out just a physical cause I wanted to experience this vicious wonder the exciting Detroit drug use by the action if such effect that makes any study that i ll ll ll and this is the point and wonder story where she began to find hope I have a good mentor is these rubber can be nothing with their Space Flight Center he was the one who brought to me my first internship he was the one who'll one day says Robert Kennedy just saw her blindness differently he challenged her to come up with the way for blind researchers to get more familiar with some of NASA's astronomical data AIDS I said I am not going to just get familiarize with the date ah I want to do science and went to some physics one to realize was that the graphs of data most scientists look at those are just numbers put to a page plotted out over time the rise and fall from left to right and so what if she wondered what if she could instead plot that seemed data into sound rising and falling but in pitch so with a lot of hard work and some computer programming she did I I uh the the this believe it or not is the sound of radiation from a star on a graph it would look just like a squiggly line but the data point some spikes higher than others in one day a family to turn those spikes into noise spikes the knocking down and some just like cited researchers one that was able to study and graph and listen for data points out of normal range the the when she hears the sounds she knows she's found something important in the data doesn't end when it's a bean or when I'm least in Eastlake and vigilance task and keep a vigilant for the unexpected so ever want to do this for the first time she analyzed the results and she nervously dropped them to her mentor send him an e mail and my legs were shaking and when he told me that he thought that I was right into with a hand and then Lake Mead water I prefer for us to continue in every sense for where he was like gonna be funny the day to day I'm able to the faith of the eleven of the best astronomer using foul and what people have been able to do mainly beach ready for hundreds of years now I do it using some money for the the the the thing for the industry not going to play the best for you if not we'll see he found the date the song mocking peace process is called the Asian Sexy Beautiful is a beautiful sound when you were the glamour a look alike in space no one has ever seen at a sighted person or a person without sight but we can all probably imagine what it looks like based on the data rate we'll eat we'll go eat will feel as a beam of energy is a massive outburst of energy in one direction so massive that I don't think any ie would be able to persist such a view you're reading now with the Dutch in something happy view see that kind of brilliance so the prime minister the family can reverse this is beautiful but I have a hard time hearing that a day yes am in now Buddhism there's a saying that says that the boys go stay with us work radical base a heart so when you hear the sounds is like listening to someone talking to you when I hear someone talking in I guess most blind people and people are not visually oriented they can tell if the person is sad or if something has happened to that bear sewn if the person he's angry ex and that is the same theme with with the sound and you feel that something is being communicated to you or your just perceive a need and it makes you makes me feel good it makes me feel great all the changeable everyone may develop if the baby yet the point and what if each of our example scientists that are already at the top of that here's what happens to them if a developer the SEBI information access and power source before each when we give people the opportunity to succeed without limits that we leave the base on at Ford Field made him prosper in life and I think that the use of sound gastronomy is helping us watch effect and to contribute to science high thing that science is for everyone if you don't so the people he has to be available to everyone because we are ordered not one explorers I dream when I have of scientific Plainfield where people in the ditch and respect each other when people exchange is the use of these covert together if people would be if I allowed him to the scientific field an explosion a huge bright burst of knowledge with a place I am sure the birds The The The The astronomer one dead the years Meyer said you can see her full talked about can the show today ideas of the five senses and how they help us perceive our own version of the world around us soap taste is a sense that's great right it's like the pleasure sense but actually as important as the others I mean we could live without outright heresy guy heresy taste is the last barrier to you putting something in your mouth that could go into something pleasing ok pretty important if this By the way is tactical Darnell and Cole is a scientist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where she studies taste it is The Last Lion offense our ancestors in terms of evolution and survival is to ensure that they stayed away from things are going to kill it and they made sure that this wild things they needed like protein and carbohydrates fats salt taste is not a frivolous fact it is not a frivolous thing to be taken very seriously yeah sorry and also with a lot of fun the so just like there are five senses most scientists believe there are five tastes in each one plays a very different role in keeping us alive as Nicole explained on the Ted stage to start with the one that we like the least and that there were born not liking better that's because bitter Eagle's poison in terms of survival but we can learn to like bitter things once we realize the poison and a great example is caffeine coffee so let's go to the other end of the spectrum we love sweet because it is the taste of pure energy via simple carbohydrates like sugar the similarly we love you Mommy Mommy is the savory taste of protein another thing we need for our bodies to survive right now to talk about a funky one and that sour because they can either help us or harm us so we tend to like weak acids like citric and that's probably because we've evolved to need to like that so that we get vitamin C but we do not like strong acids like that a car battery right that's gonna kill us we're not going to consume that so the final one is salt in your body needs salt time to maintain fluid levels or other internal process sees the Craven Arts I just laid out for you taste this is pretty logical and pretty straightforward when it comes to survival I think it's too simple actually sort of throw a wrench in what you think you know about Chase evolution and survival are so complicated as we know they are why would taste be so simple so I was curious about this and I asked the question Why five the moon there could be a sixth taste can be affixed the eighth on and so forth um in terms of where the evidence lies in the one that seems to be the closest a really convincing sensory scientists across the world that exists is fat taste fact that aces is probably the sixties and just a moment the hunt for the mysterious six faced stay with us today and show ID is about the five senses and Guy rising you're listening to the Ted Radio Hour from NPR the aural to Hey Everyone Just a quick thanks to two of our sponsors who helped make this podcast possible first to simply say they're an award winning home security company their system uses an arsenal of wireless sensors and has twenty four seven professional monitoring plus you pay by month and never get tricked into a long term contract simply say Fresno installation costs and no hidden fees or you can protect your home and family the smart way right now listeners of our show can get two hundred dollars off the simply say defender package only if you go to simply say from NPR comics S I M E L I was safe in PR to the Thanks also to Stamp Stuff calm when you're running a small business you want to maximize every minute of every dollar stamps of comics easy to buy and print offical US postage for all of your letters and packages right from your desk using your phone computer and printer right now still stuck on has this special offer when you sign up a four week trial plus postage and a digital scale a stance dot com click on the microphone and type in Radio Hour it's the Ted Radio Hour from NPR and Guy rise and the show today ideas about the five senses the and we're just hearing from the Cole Garner who studies taste at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where she'll like some other scientists in the budding field of Taste Research thinks that fact might be the mysterious six taste when I think that what you think that just big pieces of fat off of me just you know the deal the fat from the you know that the meat that cook pot so this is the problem with it a science it is that it is depended a lot of ways on language and so when I say fat I'm thinking of the actual molecules the fatty acids good fats like Omega six Omega three so the fact is that we say is like acid and it is in meat nuts vegetables it's something that your body needs to eat almost everyday to survive goodbyes can't make it so what it is like it's actually a pretty gross taste it's like for me it's kind of likes stale popcorn in a ballet that left a new car maybe was a melted plastic on it not tasty no the the the prove that that is the six tastes and in order to do that you have to answer a lot of questions but the one that's most intriguing to me as a geneticist is this Is there a gene for fact ace sell your ability and Chase is wrapped up in tens of thousands of years of your family history through evolution and all of that evolution is written today right now writing you in your DNA so if you think about your DNA like a cookbook for your body then like any good cookbook your DNA cookbook has jeans these are recipes me so recipes or jeans same thing there the instructions telling your body how to make something it needs to survive and to tie it back to taste Michael's to find the gene or recipe for fat face so many thousands of people to come into my lab to do taste tests to answer questions about themselves and do a cheek swab kit like the CSI shows except for we're going to use it to study tasty the coal and other scientists are working on this right now and they've already begun to prove that fat is a taste we can detect and we have a paper published that shows as we increase the amount of fat in at eight a solution people can actually tell us that it's been increased even when we do in a double blind study and don't tell them what's in it but there's a lot of other work that needs to be done and I am fully supportive of it I think that it's going to show that practiced Israel how would it change our understanding of taste if that is recognized as a sixth take this research is being done to understand so much in terms of nutrition and so the more we can understand how our bodies work in the fat is part of that fat taste is part of that then I think smarter we can be about how you create recipes that are healthy that somebody actually wants to eat or how do we make drugs that potentially have gotten so bitter so how can you make drugs that are bitter ahh sad that so that kids can take it and they can get better see the truck and so fast swimmer PC equation it's not an end all to solving problems and obesity by any means but it is something we'd consider in terms of how our bodies work in modern day Monday life which is my life is not our bodies evolved to live have to assume that like overtime are our taste evolves pretty radically like you to take a in Neolithic human right and drop them into twenty first century Earth they would freak out because they would taste things that would just be so crazy to them right so the taste preference is innate so we are born liking seat we're boring not liking better that's in all of our DNA for the most part like smells like there's no smell that everyone loves the snow that everyone hates across the world but taste we really have this so if you dropped somebody from Neolithic times into our time they would probably still like sweet and probably still not like that or the thing that I love around tasting flavor research in this stage is how much we're now seeing this cultural mixing of the food to eat no matter where you are in the world and so the DA the ideas behind it is how as humans do you think about what we have any preference is for but then the food adventurous enough to survive in world is actually much more diverse than the little world we live in the the cold I know is a curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science you can see her fall talk at Ted that NPR that the RG than a show idea is about the five senses so before we get started with a guy who played weasel I sell on saved By The Bell The Witch cult like that the pinnacle of achievement I would call that an awful TV show that a lot of fun being on did you continue to act after that rule No sew around this time by my mid to late teens my site was becoming a substantial nuisance the baby by my early twenties it was it was a disability and by the time I was twenty five I was blind the icicle its key might have been on track to turn a successful run as a child actor into a lifelong thing but at age thirteen he was diagnosed with a genetic disease that caused the cells in his retina to progressively die off so progressive deterioration of your site and ultimately points sitting in the car on the way home from from that doctor's office I knew that Linus was going to completely ruin my life cute you think that at age thirteen I didn't think it I knew it I knew it was my reality but blindness didn't drill and Isaac's life in fact he ended up graduating from Harvard Law degree even work for two different Supreme Court justices and today he runs his own successful business but back when he was a kid to see that path forward Isaac had to grapple with what it meant not to see it all here's Isaac Alinsky on the Ted stage what does it feel like to see you open your eyes and there's the world seeing is believing site is true right well that's what I thought then from age twelve to twenty five my sight became an increasingly bizarre carnival fun house hall of mirrors illusions objects appeared morphed and disappeared in my reality it was difficult and exhausting to say I pieced together fragmented transitory images until I saw nothing at all I learned what we see is not universal truth it is not objective reality what we see is a unique personal virtual reality is masterfully constructed Barbara let me explain with a bit amateur neuroscience your visual cortex takes up about thirty percent your brain that's compared to approximately eight percent for touch and two to three percent for hearing site is one third of your brain going and can claim about two thirds of the brain's processing resources it's no surprise then that the illusion of sight is so compelling but make no mistake about it site is an illusion a hill appears steeper if you've just exercised and alien mark appears farther away if you're wearing heavy backpack you create your own reality and you believe it I believe mine until it broke apart the deterioration of my eyes shattered the illusion the site is just one way we shape our reality we create our in many other ways let's take fear as just one example your fears distort your reality psychologists have a great term for it awful Isaac Wright fear replaces the unknown with awful when I was diagnosed with my blinding disease I knew Linus was a death sentence for my independence it was the end of achievement for me blindness meant I would live an unremarkable life small and sad and likely alone I knew this was a fiction born of my fears but I believe if I had not confronted the reality of my fear I would have lived in I am certain that the the the the adage or reality change so I tell the story of the first time that I visited with a low vision and blind occupational therapist a vision rehabilitation specialist and she started to talk about all these practical solutions for discrete problems in the back of my mind I was actually a bit frustrated you are thinking will I hear this yeah you know yes I bump into things yes maybe I should learn use a cane but that's almost arbitrary like I'm here to talk about blindness this amorphous bogeyman is going to ruin my life I'm not here talk about these practical details and then it really hit me there is no more facebook human there is no overarching doom and gloom all it is is these practical problems that you want to talk about and that was a major change for me I decided right there that whenever I felt afraid I ask myself two questions What precisely is my problem in what precisely can I do about my new blinds in my life but that was a reality that I was that I was choosing that date that my mind had created for me and I was choosing to believe and I decided to make another choice the EU mission right in it's it's such a powerful and dominant sense in it it over powers our other senses well there's no doubt that we are inherently visual creatures and it dominates or mentor capacity processing power and in some ways it does that I think to our great detriment at least a couple ways there's a lot more going on us then light striking the four receptor cells of a ruinous but we are built to certainly devote an inordinate share of our attention to that light the the the the end of the day are four receptor cells respond about one ten trillion of the spectrum of light in the world around us and from that one ten trillion of light flying around our brains concoct this scenario that implicate its members or opinions or emotions our experiences are conceptually how we understand the world and then we believe that that is what the world looks like the but the the assumption we make is that the entire point of our visual system the way it's constructed its goals are to represent the world around us accurately guess it turns out scientists turn shows that's not true the point of sight is to be useful to us in the same evolutionary way that we endeavor to fulfill objectives of procreation and survival so the system isn't even designed to represent the information accurately designed to be helpful in the evolutionary goals at how much our reality of evil we see is an illusion so I would argue all of it to me it's more about choosing what reality you want to live for yourself so this really was the profound insight that really made losing my sight a great blessing in my life I felt I was living a race against the clock a race against time or a second blindness until I've decided to really take control of my own reality in the the the point today is not about my blindness however it's about my vision going blind taught me to live my life eyes wide open it is a learned discipline can be taught to practice I'll summarize very briefly hold yourself accountable for every moment every thought every detail CV on your fears day or your excuses rationalizations shortcuts justifications your surrender choose to see through them choose to let them go you are the creator of your reality with that empowerment comes complete responsibility I chose to step out of fears tunnel into terrain un charted an undefined I chose to build there a blessed life far from alone with Dorothy my beautiful wife with triplets we call the trip skis and with the latest edition of the family sweet baby Clementine Helen Keller said that the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision for me going blind was a profound blessing because blindness gave me a vision I hope you can see what I see the the the Isaac lets keep his book about this is called Eyes Wide Open The U can see is full tock that come the the they were exploring idea is that the five senses and accept smell so you know uh some people get more mosquito bites than others oh yes the reason is smell because we give of different smells we give off different smells that mosquitoes are attracted to there is a group in the UK it's been wrapping people up in silver foil collecting the smells and seeing if the smells the track skaters will they found is that yes some people much more attractive than others issued by the way is Professor trust room Wyatt time based in the zoology department at the University of Oxford and Professor White he studies smells indeed and my interest is animals right away across the animal kingdom through to people he says just like people smell different to different mosquitoes lots of things smell different to different people each of his does smile a different world because women smiling say strawberries there are hundreds of different small molecules are being given off by the strong breeze and the brain is very good at isn't it
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