Presenting a new series ‘What If?’ where you, the students, get to ask us your questions. It can be anything in the whole wide world but there’s just one condition: it should start with ‘What if?’ We’ll pick the most intriguing questions and feature it along with an illustrated explanation on The Learning Tree Blog.
To ask your question, fill-up the form here:
The second question of the What If? series comes to us from 12-year-old Ritam Adhikari of West Bengal. He asks:
“What if everyone in the world looked the same?”
They say beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. But ever wondered why it’s ‘eye’ of the beholder and not the nose or ears? It’s because we humans rely heavily on our vision to make sense of the things around us. Our eyes are our windows to the world. It could be said that out of all the five senses, the sense of sight or vision is the one which is most important to us to derive information from the world.
Our sense of vision tells us how far or near something is. It tells us if something is attractive or not. It warns us of danger and keeps us safe from predators. We rely on our vision to pick our mates and life partners, to paint and draw and express our feelings, and to read expressions and understand others’ feelings without exchanging a single word.
Humans are unique in this manner. Other creatures don’t rely as heavily on their sense of vision but rely on other senses to make sense of the world. Cats and dogs, for instance, rely heavily on their sense of smell, which is some 20,000 times stronger than humans. Bats use a form of ‘echolocation’ to navigate. They rely on the sense of sound. They do this by bouncing sound waves off surfaces and listening to the rebound to gauge how far or near the obstacle is.
Our eyes have stereoscopic vision. Which means we can get a 3-D view of the world around us with accurate depth perception. We have rods and cones in our eyes that help us see the visible spectrum of light. The human eye can perceive nearly 7,000,000 colours and distinguish between hundreds of shades. This means that not only do we differentiate and categorise things based on how they look, but we organise our entire world around it.
When Ritam asks, “What if everyone on Earth ‘looked’ the same,” it could mean one of two things. One is a world where the physical differences between all humans are reduced to such a degree that everyone is literally the same person. Let’s make that a problem for another day! What we shall assume is a world where our sense of vision is not sharp enough to distinguish between physical features as we are used to doing currently. A world where just by looking at someone, you can’t tell if they are tall or short, a boy or a girl. Where you can’t tell the colour of someone’s skin or hair or eyes or any colours for that matter. What would happen in such a world?
When one of our five senses gets impaired, it is not uncommon for other senses to fill the gap. Studies have shown that people who lose their sight later in life develop a heightened sense of hearing or touch to compensate. Have you heard of the DC superhero Daredevil? His character is based on the same premise. After he loses his vision in a freak accident, he develops super-human hearing skills. Can you picture a world where the sense of sound is more important than vision? Perhaps then we’ll talk about “love at first sound” instead of “love at first sight”. Maybe we’ll marvel how a “single word is worth a thousand pictures”!
Or imagine a world where we use smells to tell things apart instead of sight. We would surely have more names for different kinds of smells than words for colours! The fact remains that as humans, we love to break things down to a simpler level to make more sense of things. An important part of this is using our five senses to differentiate between things. We can tell if a chair is a chair just by looking at it. We can also tell different chairs apart by the design, colour and style. We have lawn chairs, dining chairs, plastic chairs, camping chairs – the list goes on!
The same applies to humans and not just chairs. As social animals, we like to categorize our fellow companions into groups based on various factors. The ability to perceive each person as different and unique matters in all aspects of human life and is a fundamental feature of our existence. If not for our exceptionally good sense of vision, we would perhaps rely on the other five senses or develop a completely new sixth sense to tell things and people apart!
Enjoyed reading this? Check out the previous edition of the ‘What If?’ series: What If #001: What if the Earth’s oxygen levels doubled?
Do you want to ask your own ‘What if?’ question? Fill the form below and stand a chance to be featured on the Learning Tree Blog.
[custom_author=Suraj Prabhu ]
Suraj Prabhu is a self-proclaimed audiophile and a jack-of-all-trades writer with a diverse set of interests. An amateur quizzer on the side, he claims that the first object he fell in love with was a book on flags at age 3. His favourite punctuation mark is the 'Oxford comma,' which coincidentally happens to be one of his favourite songs too!
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