Heartbeat, evolution and bizarre senses

We have more than five senses, and some of these senses are bizarre. Typically we use our bizarre senses for situational awareness or speedreading or some other cool skills. But in other cases like vertigo, they may interfere with whatever we are trying to do and we may need to tone them down. For more reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Outdated evolutionary advantage

Most of our senses and behaviors at some point were an evolutionary advantage. Then some of them became a mixed blessing.

For example, yawning is an ancient behavior common to most vertebrates. Yawning leads to an increase in cortical arousal, which could be construed as a person feeling more alert. It is potentially contagious and may make an entire group more alert. The basic rationale is that if yawning is an indicator that one individual is experiencing diminished arousal, then seeing another person yawn might, in turn, increase the observer’s vigilance to compensate for the low vigilance of the yawner – in all kinds of animals. Yet, when during a particular lecture the entire class starts to yawn, this does not help the learning process.

Other reflexes, like knee-jerk are even harder to rationalize. Possibly a side effect of the body structure that does not do much either way?

We may have more senses than we actually use. We may enjoy abusing our senses. And we may also get abused by our senses.

Hot taste and sensory abuse

We have taste buds for sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami, not for “hot”. The hot taste is usually a heat sensor indicating that our skin is on fire. It can be irritated by various peppers for example, and we put them into our food. Are we supposed to do that? Probably not. Probably peppers are hot so that nobody tries to eat them. And yet we do. And then we drink milk to reduce the irritation. Notice, that the water does not work, only milk. This is also crazy since only very juvenile mammals are supposed to drink milk.

The sense of vertigo is another example of sensory abuse. Why do we build amusement parks with huge rollercoaster structures? Because we enjoy some level of vertigo, where vestibular apparatus and eyesight spatial orientation work together in high-g environment. Notice that usually only kids love these devices? There is a good reason for this. The viscosity of the fluid in the vestibular apparatus changes with age. Someone above the age of 40 may throw up when the kids enjoy the experience. Why do we throw up? Because eyesight and vestibular apparatus disagreeing with each other is a sign of poisoning, like alcohol poisoning.

Poetry: seeing and hearing

We can acquire information by listening to an audiobook, or by speedreading with subvocalization suppression. In one case we use hearing, in the other sight only. Typically poetry is constructed in a way that uses all of our senses.

This is usually the task of the poet, or an author of a fiction book, to convey the message using all methods available: the rhythmic sounds of reading, the literary meaning of the text, the metaphors we visualize, the sound analogies we may experience, and more. You should not speedread someone like Edgar Poe, as the natural sounds are tightly embedded into the text. However, someone like Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote highly visual texts. In a similar way, Kandinsky experienced painting like music.

At the end of the scale, we have authors like Nabokov with clear synesthesia. For them the visual and the audio effects of the text were inseparable.

Trying to reduce reading to fewer senses may deliver the information, but the resulting experience is suboptimal, like reading a poor translation of a foreign text.

By the way, learning properly foreign languages is a fully immersive procedure and should be done with all available senses for maximal efficiency.

Tetrachromatic vision

One of the coolest tricks human vision can do is an enhanced color resolution. Typically we have sensors for red, green, and blue. In some people, the green sensor is not centered, closer to red or blue, creating a sort of color blindness. The color sensors are associated with X chromosome. Now, a female has two X chromosomes. What happens if each chromosome has a different form of color blindness? Magic, apparently. Instead of three color senses, such women have four. A normal person sees around 1 million colors, a tetrachromate can see around 100 million colors. This situation is relatively rare. While research suggests that near 12 percent of women have discrepancies in green color receptors, full tetrachromacy is incredibly rare.

We do not know if tetrachromacy offers any evolutionary advantages. Even its benefits are subtle and deal with improved painting and interior design skills. Some also point out that tetrachromat sees through army camouflage. Yet, tetrachromat is a child of two partially color-blind parents, which is an evolutionary interesting situation. We are better as a group. Some of us have perfect vision, some are color-blind, and thanks to their deficiency some very lucky individuals have superhuman vision.

Modern armies love minor biohacking. Some elite army units have designated “blood bank” donors with O- blood type. These people are on average somewhat less skilled than other soldiers since their secondary role is critical for the survival of their comrades. A more known story was a story of Navaho code talkers during WWII, who used to be the perfect human encryption device.

Internal drum

Ancient warriors used to fight to the sound of huge drums. These drums were also called “the heart of the warrior”. Here the story gets stranger. Each person has his own heartbeat rate. As we age our heart slows down, possibly as a preservation mechanism. It is known in other animals, that the faster the heartbeat the slower the lifespan. Heart rate variability is one of the tests of biological aging. People who have less variability have a greater risk of death.  Diabetes, heart failure, and stress are all major causes of decreased heart rate variability, which makes sense as they all have an increased risk of death.

Oxytocin, meditation, and sports may improve heart rate variability. Physical and psychological traumas may generate a literally “broken heart” effect, with reduced heart rate variability. A more poetic way of seeing it: our heart counts happy moments. When we are unhappy, the heart refuses to count and we risk dying.

Status and beauty

High-status men are perceived as more beautiful. With females, the situation is more complex. In traditional cultures, like in Yemen, where women are bought for camels, age, education and power of the woman reduce her price. Even in some modern cultures, well-educated women with high incomes were seen by men as “less likable, less faithful, and ultimately less desirable”. Personally, I do not feel this way, and I am attracted to strong women, but this is actually quite rare.

Status can have very strange effects on human bodies. For example, alpha males have very strong and annoying body odor.  The evolutionary role of this peculiarity is still not clear. In addition, there is a so-called Proustian effect when we dislike individuals based on their smell.  This has something to do with competition of groups with different genetic composition. Maybe leaders with strong body smell polarize the Proustian effect.

Another effect of status and beauty is the prediction of political campaigns. With relatively high certainty, simply by looking at two individuals from some unknown place, people can guess which individual will win in elections. No program, education, public support and prior deeds enter into consideration. The only caveat: in times of greater uncertainty, stronger more masculine types win. This situation is so crazy, that reportedly an AI can be trained to predict the results of elections with 75% certainty based on political stability and the faces of the participants.

Senses interfering with daily lives

While most sensory experiences are positively correlated with our success, and some are puzzling, there are few sensory experiences that trap us. For example, misophonia is a strange aversion to certain sounds. Some people, like me, cannot work when others eat near them. I simply cannot concentrate on anything but the sound of the other person crunching. I cannot think of an evolutionary advantage to this phenomenon. It is the psychological equivalent of an autoimmune disease. Situational awareness becoming a personal limitation.

While I know articles that explain some treatment of misophonia, personally I find it easier simply to explain my condition to another person and either ask that person to eat in a designated area or retreat until the person finishes eating. Some people may not understand the situation initially, but after several events, people tend to comply and empathize. It helps, that misophonia typically interferes with work but not socialization. Following the person to the designated eating area shows that the effect is not personal or social.

We should not blindly trust our senses, or ignore them based on prior knowledge and common sense. It is rather an issue of understanding the limitations and finding a workable workaround.

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