What does it feel like to touch an ice cube?

I dunno whether to delete that post or not. Firstly, no, I’m not a satanist. Secondly, no, I’m not suggesting I was visited by a ghost. What I do think is that we too often see ourselves as something entirely separated from the animal kingdom, and we limit ourselves to thinking of the universe only in terms of what we understand.

What does it feel like to touch an ice cube? We think of our selves as having 5 senses: Sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. But what does it feel like to touch an ice cube? Most people say “wet” and “cold”, some add “sticky” (if its a very cold ice cube). We do “feel” cold, but is it really the same as feeling a surface is rough or something is wet?

We tend to perceive ourselves as in some way evolutionarily completed, that nature perfected the ape form and then finished it by placing a cherry-consciousness on top and telling it to stand up straight. It tends to lead us to see the world as “us and them” with regards to animals. But we’re not so different. In becoming “us” we gave up or changed many of the inbuilt systems and from-startup mental wiring that “they” have. But we still have our remnants — our vestigial tail that mostly doesn’t develop.

And our DNA is littered with inactive genes which express resistance to diseases that no-longer afflict us, genes which express support mechanisms for bacteria or other organisms we no-longer face or no-longer carry. And a lot of our monkey and mamalian heritage is still in there, including genes which express areas of the brain. Sometimes we physically lack the wiring to trigger or stimulate those sections, or sometimes we have genetic wiring which subverts the use of those areas, or sometimes we just lack the part of monkey-upbringing that incorporates them into general brain activity.

Most of us don’t like to think about this, but humans still respond to pheremones. We don’t like this because we’re used to our brain being king of the hill, receiving a signal and making an informed choice. But with something like pheremones, the brain does as it’s told. There is no signal mechanism most of us detect that says “We am experiencing pheremones, request permission to get horny?” And yet pheremones are part of smell, a faculty of the body “we” are in full control of, right?

Evolution is still throwing the dice with humans, and the reason we are still fairly diverse is because none of us is a perfect expression of a single genetic code. We’re all aproximations. One thing I’ve found insufferable since moving to the US is the frequency of yalls’ television sets. 50hz is in my hearing range as a very annoying high-pitched sound.

Similar things happen with vision and hearing – vision is made up of a slew of competing brain areas all of which are trying to assert their interpretation of a part of the visual input. You have separate areas of the brain for processing different colors, different areas for detecting different kinds of motion in different ways, other areas for detecting edges, shapes, depth, etc, etc.

And yet even our scientists seem to have religious blinkers that limit them to thinking in terms of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

We think of our genetic code as a sort of blueprint for a human, but we don’t stop to think what that entails. At the very lowest level, systems in our bodies — cells — communicate through chemical, electrical and environmental means. Our body has an amazing, high-speed, inter-organ, electronic communications network, and we have a similar, packet-switched, sensory network describing the external and internal environments as experienced throughout the body. And all over our body are systems which monitor and summarise data from elsewhere.

An article, in the new scientist I was reading, mentions how scientists have recently discovered that humans when shown a representation of their brain’s alpha-waves seem to have the ability to control it. Why is this a surprise? Our brain is a control system. Nature fitted it with a feedback mechanism, called dreaming, but nature was all out of organically grown 19in LCD displays at the time.

Last night, I felt like something evil was in the room. I felt like there was a supernatural force there wanting to do harm to me. And the freaky part was my neighbors felt something too. I jumped to that conclusion because I was raised in a christian family, and at the same time I’ve encountered people dabbling in the occult before. And I felt the same sensations then, if not so powerfully.

But I don’t think the afterlife was involved. I think whatever they were doing downstairs did something that sparked unused circuitry in the brains of myself and my neighbours and our pets, circuitry which is perhaps linked to ancient fight-or-flight circuitry, something old enough to be common between my cat and I. Maybe its a sound we make, maybe its the electrical fields our brains generate, I doubt it was a pheremone or smell.

More importantly, I don’t think it was “supernatural” I think it was simply “extranormal”. For most of the things on my desk I can reach out and touch and feel difference in texture and hardness. But if I reach out and touch an ice cube, suddenly my sense of “touch” has a thermostat….

– Postscript –

Yes, I’m still a little weirded out and probably blathering/babbling somewhat; whatever the cause, my grey matter was highly terrified by experiencing it :) The cops were there for about 40 minutes or so, the trash bags I had by the front door for the morning made them suspicious for a bit, and my limey sensibilities felt very threatened by the way they went about things. I didn’t feel presumed innocent until proven otherwise, and I have a permanently guilty nature so I dread having to prove my innocence.

4 Comments

One slight correction – 50Hz is a very low frequency sound. And PAL is 50Hz, NTSC is 60Hz.

What’s bugging you will be the flyback transformer that provides the horizontal scanning of a CRT image. For a NTSC TV this is 15734.25Hz, for PAL it’s 15625Hz. The whine is typically caused by a physical vibration of transformer components due to the magnetic fields involved.

I have two hypotheses for your greater “awareness” of this sound in the US:

1. You are surrounded by cheap TVs that have lower quality flyback transformers with greater mechanical “slop”.

2. Growing up surrounded by PAL TV caused you to develop an extremely narrow “deafness” at the PAL flyback frequency (15625Hz), and the NTSC frequency of 15734.25Hz is just far enough away that you notice it. I’d suspect that any such “deafness”, if it exists, is probably more likely to be within the brain’s signal processing rather than due to nonfunctioning hairs in the inner ear, but I’m pretty much waving my hands around and guessing at this point.

More detail on flyback frequencies here: http://www.baudline.com/mystery_signal/12_answer.html

BTW I can relate to lower functions of the brain trying to act without conscious input – while watching the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan” at the cinema for the first time, I experienced weird muscle twitching in my legs – my “fight or flight” response had decided I was in a hazardous situation and I should be running the hell out of there.

Er, yes, I stand corrected on the number of Hz :)

That said, I’m not sure “hear” is the right term, because what I “hear” is definitely a high pitched sound.

I have the same hunch (selective deafness), although I could occasionally hear Pal TVs back in England, made me very fussy about the TV I purchased.

The unused genes hypothesis sounds like a rationalization for a very unusual event. Scientists would be pleased to investigate such an event if it were repeatable. I have never had an experience even remotely simular and in all likelyhood you will never experience another like it again. Over time our brains selectively erase bad memories in preference to good ones so the fright you feel now should diminish rapidly.

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