You may actually have a “Spidey sense,” argues neuroscientist Dr. Bradley Voytek. (Photo Credit: CC BY/JD Hancock/Flickr)

Have you ever wished you had a Spider Man-like “Spidey sense” that would warn you before physical danger threatened your existence? Or a radar sense like that of the superhero Daredevil, who could acrobatically navigate a confined space full of death traps, despite the fact that he’s completely blind? One Berkeley neuroscientist believes humans may be able to develop these types of super senses.

The super senses we aren’t using

According to U.C. Berkeley neuroscientist Dr. Bradley Voytek, human beings may have access to super senses they’ve never taken the time to develop. The power of the human mind is extraordinary, Voytek reminds us. Our perceptions are facilitated by receptors and membranes that enable us to see and hear. The basic biology and cellular processes involved work apart from and in concert with our conscious awareness, yet the degree of sensitivity involved in perception is far from basic.

Voytek sees potential beyond standard senses

Quite arguably, says Voytek, the upper and lower threshold of our senses lie far beyond conventional wisdom. For instance, studies have shown that humans can see as few as two photons entering the retina. As such, it would theoretically be possible to see the flame of a candle from miles away, provided the right landscape and weather conditions.

It could also theoretically be possible that the range of human hearing – commonly from 20 Hz to 20,000 kHz – could focus down intensely enough to detect the vibrations caused by Brownian motion, or the random movement of atoms in particle theory.

Referencing yet another sense, it is known that humans can smell as few as 30 molecules of certain substances.

Why don’t people use these ‘super senses’ daily?

According to Voytek, the reason humans don’t use their senses more fully is because it requires too much attention. The amount of focus required is daunting for most people. Experiments testing the physical limits of an individual human sense tend to require subjects to intently focus on the task at hand and exclude the other senses. Consciously tuning out stimuli from other senses can raise focused senses to what some would call super-human acuity. The more we’re able to focus, the more easily our brains can create strong 3-D images – at least where spatial perception is concerned.

You are a Daredevil

This points to the age-old belief that if you lose one or more senses, the remaining senses become hyper-acute. Two amazing examples among blind people are Ben Underwood and Terry Garrett. Teenage Underwood is able to perfectly navigate his surroundings – even on a skateboard or roller blades – via echolocation. Like a dolphin or bat, Underwood makes a clicking sound that enables his ears and brain to work together to create a Daredevil-like sonar sense. Similarly, Underwood and Garrett can play video games based on sound alone.

As scientists like Dr. Voytek continue to develop their understanding of how the brain and our senses work, we’ll be that much closer to understanding how we can develop the super senses that often lie dormant within.

Sources

CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/07/19/earlyshow/main1817689.shtml

Oscillatory Thoughts: http://blog.ketyov.com/2011/05/we-are-all-inattentive-superheroes.html

Wikipedia entry for Brownian motion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownian_motion

Wired: http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2011/04/blind-gamer-plays-zelda-by-ear/

Ben Underwood has overcome his blindness without surgery

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