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How Scientists Are Pushing The Boundaries Of Our Senses

Photo caption: A book cover for "We Have the Technology" by Kara Platoni.

Photo by Basic Books

A book cover for "We Have the Technology" by Kara Platoni.

How Scientists Are Pushing The Boundaries Of Our Senses


Kara Platoni, author, "We Have the Technology"


Everything we know about the world — what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell — boils down to electrical signals in our brains. Science journalist Kara Platoni wants to know more about how our brains interpret those signals, and whether current research can expand our ability to perceive the world, potentially developing completely new senses.

"We are learning to interpret the brain's language, the data flow that turns electrochemical fizz into sensations, experiences, feelings — the very stuff of being," Platoni wrote in her book "We Have the Technology." "And if we can understand this information, we can modify it."

Platoni visited labs around the world working on the five senses, including the San Diego office of Innovega, an augmented reality company. It's working on a contact lens system that can overlay all sorts of information on our field of view and even zoom in on what we see. But Platoni said the work into augmented reality has already started to move beyond the goggles and glasses she wrote about in her book.

"We saw an enormous backlash to Google Glass and companies got very sensitive about putting things near your eye," she said. "The new thing is almost like stick-on bandages, with sensors that are lightweight. Athletes use them for training, monitoring the amount of UV sunlight they're exposed to, their blood pressure and heart rate."

Platoni writes that this research into upgrading our senses puts us "on the cusp of tinkering with evolution," but admits we have been tinkering with our senses for centuries. She said the invention of the wristwatch was a body modification that altered our perception of time just as biohackers today implant magnets under their skin in an attempt to perceive magnetic fields.

"Maybe the cusp passed us hundreds if not thousands of years ago," she said. "But it's harder and harder to tell where the alteration stops and the new reality begins. When you left a movie theater, you knew that the movie was over. If you have something as a part of your body, how do you know where the modification ends?"

Platoni joins KPBS Midday Edition Thursday with more on how scientists are trying to transform human perception.

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