Aristotle taught us we have five senses. Since then we learned that there’s more; besides eyesight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, there’s also thermoception (which we use to sense differences in temperature), nociception (for pain), proprioception (sense of general body position by use of among others muscle tension) and sense of balance. These nine senses combined form a complex of sensors and receptors, which allows us to become aware of all sorts of in- and external stimuli so we can respond to them.
During the recent years, our senses have gotten an increasing amount of help from technology. More and more tracking devices have been developed by which we can perceive and store a multitude of stimuli. Pedometers, Heart Rate Monitors, thermometers, GPS, etc. Though until recently the technological development has mostly increased our brainpower and muscle strength, we now see an increase of the use of technology to increase our sensory perception.
“Technology is the sixth sense” is what some people say. This is not true. (And no, it’s not the tenth either). However, technology can be used to assist our senses.
It is exosensing; it’s an extension of your senses; an external, more objective kind of perception.
Nowadays, sensors are relatively cheap and readily available for all sorts of applications. And because chips can be made increasingly smaller (miniaturising of technology), our relationship with technology becomes increasingly intimate. We carry technological devices close to ourselves more often, on or skin (wearables, smartphones) and even under it (implantables).
Why do we do this?
The biologist in me says: because we benefit from it.
The current incorporation of technology into our lives reminds me of the endosymbiont theory that was discussed during the first year lectures on evolution; the theory that explains the origin of mitochondria and chloroplasts in respectively animals/humans and plants.
At a certain point in evolution two completely different organisms entered a positive mutual dependency with each other, because this provided an evolutionary advantage. (Because the plant cell absorbed a chloroplast at one point – and was able to convert sunlight into sugar from then on – we now have the plant as we know it.)
One plus one is three; two smart organisms started cohabiting, resulting in an evolutionary leap.
The fusion of human and technology looks similar in many ways. As an organism, we start an endosymbiotic relationship something else. But what makes it unique this time is that we have devised and created ourselves. I wonder where that will take us.
By Martijn de Groot
Source: De Digitale Zorggids, 27 May 2014 (dutch)