Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Seeing in the dark




In,"Darkness sheds light on neural computations"scientists describe experiments to show how we might navigate in the dark. Bats on the other hand do this by projecting sounds out and depending on how fast those sounds are received are able to determine how far away objects are. It's called sonar, and it's how bats develop a sense of place. In thinking about our sense of place and how we determine it, it occured to me that we also use our hearing (although to a much lesser extent than bats). For instance, navigating in the dark or perhaps through the woods where we can only see so far. Many also use 'background' music to help them focus in their work and to even motivate students in the classroom.


A problem severely affecting local bats's sense of place in New York State is a disease known as 'white nose syndrome'. It's actually a fungus that grows on bats's noses. Scientists have been able to track down the appearance of the disease to Howe caverns in New York. It's a popular tourist spot so they suspect it might have been brought from elsewhere. From microbemagazine.org:

"Recent culture and PCR surveys indicate that G. destructans is widespread in Europe, including among hibernating bats in hibernacula in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, and Switzerland. Unlike in North America, however, mortality rates and population declines remain normal among European bat species. This sharp contrast between disease manifestation among bats in Europe and North America provides an opportunity to investigate how bat species may differ in terms of their susceptibilities to fungal infection, continental variability among fungal strains, and the influence of environmental conditions and bat behavior on this fungal disease."

In this case, an otherwise innocuous problem in one place turned out to big a devastating one merely by being brought to a different place.

For my project on 'place' I plan to incorporate a QR Code image with an image of a NYS bat. A QR Code is an image configured so that a particular computer application, using a camera, (typically found in smartphones) can decode for embedded information such as a website address.

I'll have it link to bats sounds on the web. The image in this way simulates a bat using its sonar to navigate and illuminate its environment through sound. The QR Code can also link to information on white nose syndrome further illustrating the effect place can have.

(As an aside, using a code to derive information about the environment is an analogue to the materialist idea that the sensory world is actually an illusion created by our brains whereas the actual world is merely abstract information).



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