Touching the untouched.

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Jellyfish are about 95% water, which makes them very difficult to study because most of the underwater tools available to marine biologists are clunky, heavy, and often shred jellyfish and other delicate creatures to pieces. A new ultra-soft gripper uses fettuccini-like ‘fingers’ inflated with water to gently grasp jellyfish and release them without harm, allowing scientists to safely interact with them in their own habitat. (1)

We touch things to experience them.

We see things to view them.

And what we see and touch is there. Never going away. Stable environment for scared little humans. Search the depth of your soul. It is what you don’t see that shapes your being. It is what you cannot touch that really touches you back. It is what you can touch that you cannot really touch. Because it is there only because of the things you can never touch.

Try to touch the cosmos…

Don’t be afraid.

It is afraid of you!

You are the raging abyss. Pouring out into existence.

Existence that should never be there in the first place.

Touch the cosmos!

Break it into pieces!

See?

You are still here…

Invisible table…

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Making objects invisible is no longer the stuff of fantasy but a fast-evolving science. ‘Invisibility cloaks’ using metamaterials now exist, and are beginning to be used to improve the performance of satellite antennas and sensors. Many of the proposed metamaterials, however, only work at limited wavelength ranges such as microwave frequencies.

Now, scientists report a way of making a cylinder invisible without a cloak for monochromatic illumination at optical frequency.

Scientists determined that invisibility would occur when the refractive index of the cylinder ranges from 2.7 to 3.8. Some useful natural materials fall within this range, such as silicon (Si), aluminum arsenide (AlAs) and germanium arsenide (GaAs), which are commonly used in semiconductor technology. By taking a close look at the magnetic field profiles, they inferred that “the invisibility stems from the cancellation of the dipoles generated in the cylinder.”

Although rigorous calculations of the scattering efficiency have so far only been possible for cylinders and spheres, Kajikawa notes there are plans to test other structures, but these would require much more computing power. (1)

A world full of things we see.

A world full of invisible things.

Right next to you, a table.

It is clearly there. Is it?

Deep inside yourself, you.

You do clearly exist, don’t you?

Extend your hand.

Funny.

When I touch this table,

it feels like it is touching me…

Listen. So that you touch…

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Our eyes, ears and skin are responsible for different senses. Moreover, our brain assigns these senses to different regions: the visual cortex, auditory cortex and somatosensory cortex. However, it is clear that there are anatomical connections between these different cortices such that brain activation to one sense can influence brain activation to another. A study by the laboratory of Associate Professor Shoji Komai at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST), Japan, seen in PLOS ONE, explains how auditory stimulation of the barrel cortex influences responses to tactile stimulation in mice and rats. Komai considered the barrel cortex a good model to see how sound can affect the perception of touch.

“We think our senses are distinct, but there are many studies that show multisensory responses, mainly through audio-visual interactions or audio-tactile interactions,” explains Komai.

His group found that mouse and rat neurons in the barrel cortex were unresponsive to light, but that a strong majority responded to sound. These neurons showed electrical responses to sound that could be categorized as regular spiking or fast spiking. Further, the barrel cortex appeared to treat tactile and auditory stimuli separately. “These responses indicate that tactile and auditory information is processed in parallel in the barrel cortex,” says Komai.

Additional analysis showed that the electrophysiological properties of the responses were different, with sound causing longer postsynaptic potentials with long latency, almost priming the animal to sense touch. This would be like the shuddering one does when hearing a loud boom. According to Komai, this reaction would be an evolutionary advantage for nocturnal animals such as rats and mice.

“In a nocturnal environment, sound may act as an alarm to detect prey or predators. The combination of auditory and tactile cues may yield an effective response. It will be interesting to learn how the same system is advantageous in humans,” he says. (1)

Listening. Tasting. Seeing. Touching. Smelling.

Distinct senses and yet so interconnected.

Interlinked.

But don’t be too dazzled by the light.

It usually hides the deepest shadows.

Senses do not let us sense the world as it is.

They help us break that world apart.

Every path in the dark forest of perception is connected with the others. And there is no way to tread one of them without crossing the others. The more you walk, the deeper you enter the forest. The more you walk, the more everything seems more familiar. The deeper you enter the forest, the more difficult to see the forest.

Tracing back your steps.

At the time when you started walking.

Remember…

As you entered that first path…

Well before the path had a name…

Did you see any paths?

Listen…

Touching. You.

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Researchers found that gently stroking a baby seems to reduce activity in the infant brain associated with painful experiences. Their results suggest that lightly brushing an infant at a certain speed – of approximately 3 centimeters per second – could provide effective pain relief before clinically necessary medical procedures. (1)

Touch. The most cryptic of all senses.

A gentle touch can sooth pain. A loving touch can make the cosmos a tolerable place again. We seek touch. And we miss it when it is not there. When all other things are gone. touch is the only way we have to access what “is there” beside us.

We can imagine of any other sense missing, but not the sense of touch. A sense so fundamental not because it is a way to sense the cosmos, but because it is the only way for the cosmos to Be. In a cosmos where everything is interconnected, the sense of touch is equivalent to the notion of existence itself. 

You are not just touching that table.

You are allowing the table to touch you back.

Feel the cosmos around you. Touching everything. Which in turn touches everything else in return. At the end, that familiar sense of touch ends up back to the only thing existing, the only thing you can actually touch.

You…

Touching.

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Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

Every year, museums bear the cost of repairing the damage caused to their artworks by visitors touching them. Why would people want to touch objects they can clearly see? What is it that touch provides that vision does not?

Philosophers, starting with René Descartes, all noted that touch provided ‘a sense of reality’, and made us feel in contact with the external world. By contrast, psychologists have tended to assume that touch has no intrinsic superiority over the other senses.

Our tendency to ‘fact check’ by touch is common, but remains unexplained: from the biblical account of the doubting apostle Thomas, we now see a ‘Thomas effect’ in cell phones and other new technologies, where people still prefer to press buttons than simply select items on a screen, and in retail where stores let people touch products. In clinical studies, compulsive patients tend to check taps or locks by touch, even though they can see they are closed.

Now an interdisciplinary group of researchers based at LMU and the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, published the first scientific evidence that when faced with ambiguous information we trust our fingertips more than our eyes. The report is available in Nature Scientific Reports. (1)

Thomas needed to touch in order to believe.

But blessed will be the ones who believe without touching.

Yes, you can touch that painting.

But it is more important to let that painting touch you…

See your father from a distance.

Touch his face.

He is crying…

Smile.

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