Week 7/ Complex Infrared Imaging “Eyes”/ Kelly Tseng

I especially enjoyed this week’s presentation by Siddharth Ramakrishnan, for I felt it touched upon very familiar topics that I studied before in a “Cells, Tissues, and Biology” class I took last quarter. Take, for example, his talk about rattlesnakes and how they utilize their specialized pit organs that are unique to their species, to sense the environment around them. It is quite amazing that these reptiles can “see” radiant heat at wavelengths ranging from 5 to 30 micrometers, which is much different from the range of sight for humans—400 to 700 nanometers. We may think that because our species are the most complex and developed species that is in existence, that animals such as snakes have sensory systems that are far less advanced than ours. However, one must accept the notion that an area of great complexity is balanced by another that is much less complex. What I mean by this is that snakes use their pit organs, which Ramakrishnan mentioned were their highly complex sensory organs, as detectors of prey and thermoregulators. A rattlesnake, which is physically blind, can locate and target their prey in the exact areas that will knock their prey out. In comparison, humans may have the highest mental capacity known compared to all living organisms on earth, but our vision is quite reduced compared to the “vision” of snakes. I found this link: http://www.piketech.com/technical/application-pdfs/FTIRMicrospectroscopySnakeIRImagingPitOrgan.pdf quite interesting as it discusses the extraordinary capabilities of snakes’ infrared imaging systems. Because they are so sensitive and provide greater absolute sensitivity than the highly advanced devices made today, scientists study these infrared imaging systems and use them as guides for the development of “novel biomimetic infrared sensor technologies”. Thus, this leads me to the conclusion that the idea of consciousness and being aware is, in a way, the same throughout all living species, but the ways in which species are conscious or rather “experience” consciousness differs greatly from species to species. Rattlesnakes, for example, must rely on their pit organs to not only view the world around them but to stay alive. Humans, rely on other means, such as our mental capacity to subsist. Therefore, I more than agree on the claim presented in class, that when studying animals we must first understand consciousness because the very unique ways in which organisms are conscious of everything is what truly sets them apart. The above image shows the infrared image of heat sensitive rattlesnakes as they perceive a squirrel in their vicinity.

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