Individual Differences in Perception
Date: May 2007
Does everyone see things the way I do? i.e perception and
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
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
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.
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Update: June 2012