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Name: neagh
Status: student
Grade: 6-8
Location: N/A
Date: May 2007

Question:
Does everyone see things the way I do? i.e perception and senses?



Replies:
Obviously there are a lot of non-scientific answers to this question too, but I'm going to stick with some science. And I'm warning you now, it's some pretty weird science (but it's true!).

There's a theory in physics called 'relativity'. Albert Einstein came up with relativity to explain a contradiction: how could it be that the laws of physics are the same for everyone, and yet the speed of light is constant? At first glance, this might not sound contradictory, but it is. Think of the speed of light: it's really fast, right? Well, what if you were already traveling at a speed just below the speed of light? Would the light just barely creep faster than you? The answer is that it *still* travels really really fast. How could this be?

Einstein came up with some theories about how space and time "stretch" that explain how this works. The math is somewhat complicated, but trust that it works out pretty well. The bottom line is that depending on how fast you're traveling compared to someone else, the time and space you experience will be different.

Time speeds up or slows down depending on your velocity relative to other objects. Experiments show that very precise synchronized clocks will show different times when one is left on Earth's surface, and the other is flown on an airplane for a long enough time. On the fast-flying plane, the clock slowed down, and ends up behind the clock on the ground. In everyday living, we all are traveling about the same speed relative to each other, so the differences are too small for us to notice. But scientists can measure them, and they can think of 'extreme' examples where the differences would be big.

This means that everyone experiences slightly different time and space than everyone else. Two observers traveling very fast in opposite directions might observe, for instance a star exploding, at different times. Events that occur in succession might appear to occur right after the other, or a long time after the other. The *order* of events cannot change, but the time when they occur does.

I don't know if this is the kind of answer you were expecting (maybe not?), but I wanted to share this phenomenon with you because it shows that science is sometimes very unpredictable. Sometimes things that you never expected -- and never could have predicted -- affect what you're doing.

To answer your question in a more expected way, humans' senses all work generally the same way, but there are definitely differences between individuals. For instance, one person might be color-blind, and so they might see the world very differently than someone who sees all colors. Different people's senses of taste and smell can be very different (you could have a cold and not be able to taste/smell well, or simply have differently-sensitive taste buds). Any of our body parts can temporarily be not working -- or permanently -- or simply work better.

The way the brain processes information from the senses also affects how you perceive them. For instance, if you lose your sight, your brain will devote more 'processing power' to your other senses. You might have more sensitive hearing or sense of touch, for instance.

You can train your senses too -- think about a wine expert who can taste a wine and tell you precisely which vineyard anywhere in the world it came from.

Burr


NO! Every human will have some individual differences in the way they perceive the world, due to inherited differences in sensory abilities. Beyond that, other creatures, even those relatively closely related to us, will perceive the world in a vastly different way than we do.

J. Elliott



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