We often speak of the power of observation. Why do we refer to observation as a power? A keen sense of the world around us was undoubtedly an essential power of our early human ancestors. Sensing or observing the world around them meant their—and our—survival. Avoiding dangerous animals, sharp objects, steep drop-offs, poisonous plants, and aggressive gestures from other humans all required observation. Even simply finding the way home demanded developed observational skills. Observing the position of distant mountains or a specific stand of trees brought our ancient ancestors back to camp.
Long before the arrival of humans on the evolutionary scene, animals evolved complex nervous systems with magnificently designed environmental receptors for things similar or identical to sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The absence of these senses would leave an animal completely vulnerable and unable to cope with a challenging environment, and even animals that lack familiar sensory organs can experience their environment in crucial ways. Clams lack eyes, but can sense changes in water temperature. Their temperature sense tells them when the tide is out, allowing them to shut tightly to avoid drying out or becoming prey for a hungry passerby. Sightless amoebas “taste” or “smell” their liquid surroundings. They slowly move toward food and away from unsuitable temperatures. They ”feel” the surface they crawl upon and change direction if it’s not to their liking. The subcellular structures responsible for these amoeba responses have their counterparts in higher animals, including humans.
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