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B Seeing more than the visible light spectrum

  1. Jun 28, 2016 #1
    Maybe this sounds mad, but does anyone think it would be possible to see wavelengths that are beyond visible light, maybe through genetic engineering or through other technology? There are many animals than can see infrared & UV. Wouldn't it be cool if we could see what radio waves look like?
     
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  3. Jun 28, 2016 #2

    Bandersnatch

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    You mean, like a radio telescope or infrared googles?
     
  4. Jun 28, 2016 #3

    sophiecentaur

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    I see where you are coming from but did you consider what sort of picture we could get, for our brains to make sense of? To a limited degree, it would not be difficult to imagine stretching our Red sensitivity down into the IR, so that we could see hot objects glowing. But how would that improve our ability to survive (in terms of evolution). Being able to spot UV could also be a help in avoiding bright sunlight and protect our skin from the risk of cancer - but we can do that already and (if we have enough sense) avoid frying ourselves. Other animals have found advantages in using slightly different regions of the EM spectrum- but they are all working on the fringes of our visual response. (snakes and bees, for instance)
    Seeing radio waves would be a different matter. A powered antenna would, perhaps appear to have a fuzzy region around it, corresponding to the local fields that radiate the RF waves. But you have to ask yourself how that could be an advantage. Of course, there were no significant sources of RF waves whilst we were evolving, which could explain why we never developed the ability (i.e. no need) and our body dimensions mean that we could expect very low acuity of RF vision so we could not see any detail.
    On a similar line, Superman's fabulous hearing ability has to be a nonsense idea because, as well as the person crying for help in the next state, everyone in the vicinity would be producing such high levels of 'interference' that he would be deafened.
     
  5. Jun 28, 2016 #4

    robphy

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  6. Jun 28, 2016 #5

    sophiecentaur

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    Hmm. The theory in that link is a bit hazy (worse than that in places but perhaps due to the journalist who reported the work), although I am not at all surprised about that guy's experience of extended hf vision. In terms of the generally accepted tristimulus theory of colour vision, he would be getting a combination of signals from his three sensors that he had never experienced before. Exactly what he would perceive / see would probably depend on his past experience of low light levels and blues / violets. He would, presumably relate it to things he had already seen.
    Vision in this region of colour space is all a bit approximate, with the 'official' colour Indigo, appearing somewhere among the 'Purples' and not at the far end of the spectral colours.
     
  7. Jun 28, 2016 #6
    You could implant electrodes close to your retina to stimulate the photosensitive cells and hook them up to a camera.
    Then you could switch out the cameras for IR, UV or pretty much anything.
    On a side note: That sounds like a terrible idea.
     
  8. Jun 28, 2016 #7

    sophiecentaur

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    You would need to switch modes, somehow because there would be UV or IR inputs that would produce the same sensations as regular colours. Actually, some very neat fitting goggles would probably achieve the same thing without tampering with the eyes at all. Night vision goggles work very well for the military and our brains seem to be pretty flexible about that sort of thing. False colour displays would be quite easy to deal with. After all, it the spatial information that's most important when you're running around in the dark or looking for a particular pattern of UV reflecting surface.
     
  9. Jun 28, 2016 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    Or x-ray specs.
     
  10. Jun 29, 2016 #9
    Cameras and false color displays pretty much the address original question, but there is a related idea that I've been pondering for a while.

    How would you go about "seeing" spectrums instead of averages colors? For example, being able to distinguish something that is green from something that is blue+yellow. It seems like this information would have been an huge evolutionary advantage. For example, if I could see the spectum of a plant leaf then I could see if it contains anything poisonous or if it safe to eat.
     
  11. Jun 29, 2016 #10

    sophiecentaur

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    As we only see colour with three parameters and our brain sticks that colour value on top of any object in our view. There is a conflict of requirements. You could introduce severe Chromatic Aberration which could put fringes around everything. Those fringes could give you the spectrum of the light coming from an object but your acuity would go.
    PS your Green=blue and yellow refers to subtractive mixing - as with pigments. It is more useful to talk about additive mixing of colours - as with colour TV where you can actually measure the spectral components of what you see. Additive mixing is based on three Primaries A red, a green and a blue. When you 'see' yellow that's composed of Red and Green, you can actually see the separate primaries (with a spectrometer). When you see the result of mixing pigments, there is no way of telling which pigments have actually been used because you can only see what happens to leak through. There is a lot of airy fairy stuff written about colour vision and it's hard to recommend a suitable source of info but you could read this link which is 'not wrong'. Artists deal in pigments and their life is different and their approach can be pretty non-scientific. What is written is often self-consistent but is hard to relate to the Physics of what goes on.
     
  12. Jun 29, 2016 #11

    sophiecentaur

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    At first sight that would make good sense. However:
    I was recently looking into getting rid of Rats and I learned that rats cannot vomit. Amazing, you might say - bearing in mind what stuff they have available to eat. But apparently, they (or evolution) 'chose' to have excellent smell and that's how they avoid too many of them dying from poisoning. We rely on existing vision, smell and taste (plus the ability to chunder) and it works pretty well (statistically) so we have evolved without the need (and cost) of spectral analysis of plants. We only do a bare minimum to deal with evolutionary threats and only when there is a significantly advantage. Nature is soo lazy.
     
  13. Jun 29, 2016 #12

    anorlunda

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    I think it would be very fun to have goggles that gave us extended wavelength vision in false colors.)

    For example, as I write this, I'm looking at a rotating radar antenna. If I could see radar, I imagine it would look like a searchlight beam sweeping the sky. When it intercepts an airplane, I would see a flash of light. If I could see radio, then a person talking on a cell phone would appear to have a shimmering light held up to his ear. If I could see radio, I would see the "color" of my favorite station fade away as I drive out of range. If I could see Xrays, my luggage at the airport would light up blue as it went through the machine.

    But we shouldn't have to wait for goggles. Computer processing should be make it easy to produce videos with false color representations of extended wavelength vision. I would be grateful if a PF member could supply some links to such videos or stills. They would be fun to see.
     
  14. Jun 29, 2016 #13
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  15. Jun 29, 2016 #14

    sophiecentaur

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    I think your description of 'seeing' the RF signals is leaving out one important factor and that is Diffraction. If you are trying to observe long EM wavelengths, you need a very large aperture in order to obtain the sort of optical acuity that you are implying. Also, the apparent size of any object can not be smaller than the wavelength used to observe it with. The world, as seen by 1m wavelength signals is full of fuzzy objects that overlap by around one metre.
    We already have ways of imaging with a huge range of wavelengths but it necessarily involves intermediate 'translation' of what our equipment sees into images which are formed using optical wavelengths. The slight extension of visible spectrum that some animals use could perhaps be achieved with some forms of intermediate / bionic 'personal viewer' which we could use for a more convincing view of things than a TV, holographic display on the wall or VR goggles that we already have available.
     
  16. Jun 30, 2016 #15
    I was thinking more along the lines of training the brain to perceive multiple colors at the same spot, at the same time.

    Normally, our brains construct a 3 dimensional model of our environment from a pair of 2 dimensional images. However, the brain is amazingly adaptable. I was trying to think of a way to give it a pair of 3 dimensional images, with the 3'rd dimension being spectrum, so your brain would then construct a 4D model out of a pair of 3D images. I'm sure that at least some peoples brains would be plastic enough to pull that off, if you figure out a way of inputting the raw data.

    You're right though in that, evolutionary, there would be little advantage to seeing spectrum, as it would be redundant to our senses of smell and taste as far as determining somethings composition. Still, I think trying to achieve it artificially would be an interesting challenge.
     
  17. Jun 30, 2016 #16

    sophiecentaur

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    That is a bit too simplistic. Totally blind people construct very detailed and accurate models of the world around them without ever 'seeing' anything (2D or 3D). Likewise, a WW2 submarine commander or a 19th Century mariner (things are probably better now) construced perfectly good images of where they were and where they were going. One eyed people don't fall over or bump into things. Our world image is far more sophisticated than what our binocular vision shows us at any instant.

    I do agree, though, that we can train our brains to use all sorts of 'unnatural' data inputs and relate them to our world. I am wondering, however, what the best method of presenting that information would be. We use plenty of 'bolt-ons' already, to widen our spectral input. That connection between our visual world and the extra information we can be given can easily (or with practice) be achieved already to an extent. Would implants or suchlike be necessarily better? A HUD can already be used very effectively by a fighter pilot, using his regular eyes. There is always the worry that an 'enhancement' could become a 'replacement'.
    This thread is proving to be very entertaining and thought provoking.
     
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