Transforming Perception, One Sense at a Time

Transforming Perception, One Sense at a Time

Kara Platoni

March 1, 02016

Kara Platoni, author and journalism professor at UC-Berkeley, set out to find the sensory pioneers who are changing the way we experience the world. Her boot-strapped and crowd-sourced quest led her to laboratories and workshops around the world. In her book We Have The Technology she reports back from the intersection of curiosity, science and technology.

Her book goes beyond the five basic senses to examine more complex perceptual amalgams: time, pain and emotion. After that she explores technological extensions like virtual and augemented reality. And finally her book looks at those who are searching for new or latent human senses; adventurous members of our species possessed by a kind of manifest destiny of perception. As we humans have narrowed the places to explore on our planet, it turns out there is still more mysteries to probe within ourselves.

In her Interval talk Platoni discussed the search for a sixth basic taste (the current five are: sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, and umami). A variety of theories exist as to what other taste has that primary nature, and she gave our audience a chance to try one candidate on their own tongues when she passed around strips of fat for all to sample.

Exploring the extremes, she closed her talk discussing new senses, an area that borders on the transhuman and includes surgically embedding magnets and other devices which may give human additional capabilities. During a lively Q&A, Kara also tells us about her Virtual Reality research. She spent time in US Army and Stanford University VR Labs where she had some beyond human experiences. So the night ended with the suggestion that empathy, applying our senses to the experience of others, was an additional frontier that is being explored.

Kara Platoni went around the world to document the ways we humans are trying to expand our experience of the world beyond our basic senses. She found scientists, doctors, inventors, and cooks who are actively exploring the frontiers of perception. She gave us a taste of the science and shared amazing stories of biohackers, foodies, virtual reality researchers, and other sensory pioneers.

Kara Platoni is a science reporter who works the Nancy Drew beat, going anywhere there is a possibility of a weird adventure involving pirates, old clocks or (ideally) ghosts. For her book, We Have the Technology, she sofa-surfed through four countries and eight US states, visiting any lab, military base or biohacker basement that would let her get in on an experiment on the cutting edge of sensory science. She teaches narrative writing and is an assistant dean at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.

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