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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How We Sense Reality - No Really!

The fascinating problem is to truly understand how we “see” reality for who knows, but that our senses may not be entirely up to the task for us to understand the universe. We certainly have found that we need tools that extend our senses into realms where we could before only dream. These tools allowed us to see vast distances both into space and the atomic realms, but perhaps we need a more nuanced approach that understands how we perceive the universe in order to truly understand it.

Since we only know reality through our senses, we should understand how they work in order to understand how our brains work; and therefore, since our receptors are the molecules that allow our senses to work, we should better understand how our receptors work. Surprisingly, the chemical equilibrium of our receptors may function very much like a chemical balance that is poised between two chemical states ( ).

This picture is more simple than many others have imagined, but it may hold promise to truly understand and simplify many heretofore complex yet intertwining realms. How we relate through our senses and bodies to the physical, chemical and biological realms of our world is certainly a worthwhile endeavor to discover. The tools we need in order to understand these concepts are nothing more than our initial curiosity, patience and some high school algebra.

The physical foundation begins with the study of a simple two pan balance. Although my and most people’s initial reaction is that most everything is already know about the simple balance so what could it possibly have to do with understanding our senses or the world? In fact, if we examine the ways that a balance can be balanced, we find that there are two ways to reestablish balance. This in and of itself may not seem like much of a breakthrough observation, but by combining and solving for a shift in the mass (weight) from one side to the other we can derive a fundamental equation of equilibrium ( ) that can be used to understand how our senses function ( ).

Understanding these concepts is the beginning of understanding how it could be that the receptor process bends the sensory function by a ratio-preserving compression and thereby permits the coupling of the organism to such dynamic ranges of stimuli. By linking these concepts to the chemical concept of Langmuir binding of a chemical entity such as a drug or molecule to another molecule such as a receptor, we can derive mathematical expressions that represent pharmacological dose-response curves ( ).

Deriving these expressions requires no more than some careful algebra, but leads to several important insights about the physical, chemical and biological relationships that govern how our sensory receptors “see” the world. It turns out that we don’t sense the world in a linear way, which means that we tend to underestimate both the small and larger ends of the stimulus response curve. Perhaps it is in these realms where our senses are not ideal for detecting changes that we may find a better or more accurate understanding of the universe in which we live.