Asking Questions about Noses

March 20th, 2011  |  Published in brains, branes, ignarince, ignorance

Why are your eyes, ears, and nose in your head?

I would imagine you'll come up with the same answer I did. Namely, putting related things near each other makes a lot of sense most of the time. We usually sit our PCs at the desk right alongside our monitors and keyboards so we don't need 100 feet of wires stretching between rooms, for example.

It makes sense for our eyes, ears, etc. to be in our head for the same reason that algorithmic traders want their servers as close as possible to the stock exchanges' servers: the closer our sense organs are to our brains, the faster the signal arrives there. Your olfactory epithelium has neurons in it, and your retinae were, when you were a little blob in a uterus, part of your developing brain. It doesn't make a lot of sense for these things to end up very far away from the brain.

Shaving milliseconds off of your response time to sensory input could mean the difference between life and death in the face of an attacking predator, or a barrel rolled by an ape, or a turtle shell thrown by Bowser. Putting your sense organs closer to the thing that processes them does just this.

(Note this observation provides simple evidence for the wholly uncontroversial assertion that the brain is the center of cognition (this assertion was, in fact, not wholly uncontroversial millennia ago).)

Anyways, I think this observation is worth writing down not because it's particularly interesting, but because I am a fairly scientifically literate individual (who took an entire college course on cognition) who didn't even think to ask this question for twenty five years of his life. Sure, once I ask the question, the answer is laughably obvious, but I hadn't even thought to ask until today!

This is completely terrifying to me. What other stupid simple observations about the world am I oblivious to because I just haven't thought to inquire about them?