The World We Can’t See

Troy Erstling
Dec 10, 2019 · 8 min read
Image Credit Shutterstock AGS Andrew

“The ordinary everyday consciousness that we have leaves out MORE than it takes in. And because of this it leaves out things that are terribly important. It leaves out things that would, if we did know them, allay our anxieties and fears and horrors. And If we could extend our awareness to include those things that we leave out, we would have a deep interior peace.” — Alan Watts

In any given moment, your brain is processing about 400 billion bits of data — but you’re only able to see about about 2000 bits of that information. That’s about 0.00000005%.

Take a second to think about that. Your waking conscious state, the world that you see around you, is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the total information available. Your picture of the world is a tiny blip in the totality of what actually exists. Think of it like looking at a single point in one of those pointillism paintings, or a single star in the immensity of the night sky above.

It makes sense though. Your brain NEEDS to do this. It has to filter out the majority of what is around us so that you can piece together a stable sense of reality that feels manageable. You wouldn’t be able to function if you could see the full complexity of everything happening around you.

But is your brain, in its attempts to filter things out, actually getting rid of things that are important as well? Within this category of shit that your brain filters out, are there things that if we could see, give us a deeper and more meaningful understanding of life?

For example, floating all around us are invisible waves that exist, but we cannot actually see. Things like sound waves, radio waves, wifi and bluetooth signals, cellphone signals, and more.

A great example of this is a radio. Right now if I had a radio next to me, I could turn it on, and using the antenna, pick up on a radio frequency and play a given station. I could flip the station onto 97.1 and ta-dah! That radio station appears out of thin air. That frequency was always around me, I just needed a radio in order to pick it up. I needed a receiver.

Same thing with wifi. The signals are floating all around us, and if you have a device that can pick up on a wifi signal, you can turn it on and tap into it. The frequency is always there, you just need a device to tap into it. Although you can’t see it, it’s there nonetheless.

Even when we speak to each other, we’re really just passing sound waves between each other. Air comes out of my mouth in a particular shape, that shape makes a noise, and then the reverberating waves of that noise are picked up by your ear drum. The sound wave exists, and you have a device (ear) to hear it, but you can’t see it.

I’ve always wondered if there were some way that I could potentially see what these waves look like. What does my voice look like? What do particular words look like? What is it’s shape and texture? Is it geometrical?

Theoretically if I speak louder, and my voice carries farther, that was literally a bigger sound wave. Can I measure how far that sound traveled? Did it leave a trail? If so, what does that trail look like?!

Think of an echo in a cave. The sound wave you produced is bouncing off the acoustics of the cave, reverberating it over and over again back to you. It’s an example of the sound waves crashing against the surrounding environment. The cave is able to capture those waves and get them to stick around for a bit longer than normal.

But let’s dive deeper — Bats for example are able to create a visual representation of their world in this exact manner using sounds via a mechanism called “echolocation”. Based on the ways that sound waves bounce off of their surrounding environment, they can determine their physical location, and in turn determine where other objects lie as well. They project sound waves and receive an image in return. Scientists are now trying to use this science in order to help blind people see (think Daredevil). Dolphins and whales use this exact same process as well, and Submarines adapted it in the same exact way by using Sonar.

For these reasons I’ve always been fascinated by things like cymatics. Cymatics is the study of the visible effects of sound and vibration. Here’s a video of cymatics in action to give you an understanding.

Incredible geometric patterns! Beautiful right?!

If this is the case, what could that mean when these sounds are hitting our bodies? Could they have an effect on us we’re not aware of? Could “negative” sounds and noise pollution be harming us? Good sounds and harmonic frequencies be helping us to cure ourselves or heal in some way?

Unfortunately, there’s little to no science to back that up just yet (but there have been the fun (debunked) studies of Masaru Emoto who talked to plants and water). Although we can reliably produce geometrical patterns like this in a variety of mediums, we know little to nothing about the effects that this can have on the body.

So for those of you who are thinking “sound healing yay!”, pump the breaks, because there’s no credible scientific evidence whatsoever that sound healing actually works (other than placebo, and placebo has verifiably been proven to work, so that’s a whole different discussion).

Pulling on the threads of sound waves, I’m also curious to see how sound waves can affect brainwave patterns, such as things like Binaural beats.

If you’re not familiar with what these are, here’s a definition in a nutshell -

The brain has five types of frequencies or waves (beta, alpha, theta, delta, and gamma), and these waves are correlated to states of mind such as creative, calm, daydreaming, sleeping etc. Each of these waves can be measured in Hz.

Based on the theory of binaural beats, I can play a sound at a certain frequency into your ears, and if you listen to it for long enough, eventually your brain will synchronise to the noise and drop into that frequency. This is also often called “Brain Entrainment”.

This is useful because anxiety and rapid thinking are usually associated with beta waves, and calm relaxation are alpha and theta waves. Theoretically, if binaural beats work, we could shift ourself out of the brainwave patterns of anxiety and into calm relaxation (or other states of mind as well). It makes sense at a theoretical level.

Unfortunately again, as of this moment, there isn’t much science to back it up, but there has been some promising research nonetheless. It’s an area of scientific inquiry that is still inconclusive. According to an article in Medical News Today (worth the read if you want to dig into the existing research), “The quality of the available research is mixed. Many of the studies confirming the benefits of binaural beats therapy involved small cohorts and used subjective measurements, such as questionnaires. There are few recent, high quality studies supporting binary beat therapy as an effective treatment for anxiety.”

But what is promising to me in both cymatics and binaural beats is that there is at least SOME initial promising science — but it’s far from conclusive and validated. It hasn’t been outright debunked, but it hasn’t been proven yet either. It’s in the grey zone.

I like the grey zone. The grey zone means that there is work and exploration to be done. Questions to be asked and experiments to be run.

All of this and I’ve only been focusing on sound waves as well, because those are the low hanging fruit. We’re still surrounded by waves of all shapes and sizes colours and flavours. Radio waves and electromagnetic waves and a whole bunch of waves I’m not educated enough to mention.

Take another example of colors — The human eye, compared to other animals, is awful at seeing the full spectrum of colors. Again, we filter a lot of the detail out. Humans have a measly 3 photoreceptors in the eye, whereas shrimp for example have 12! They can see 4x the complexity of colors that we can, and they aren’t the only ones. Our 3 photoreceptors ranks pretty low when it comes to comparing us with other animals.

And what about smells too? What the hell is a smell? How do smells travel? How far does a smell travel? If a smell can theoretically travel, what is it’s shape? Can we somehow visualise smells? Similar to how bats can use sound to create an image of their environment, dogs use smell to create a vision of their environment. What mechanism are they using to do this, and what can we learn from it?

All of this also calls into question the world of “Synesthesia” aka people who can see smells or taste sounds or see sounds and things like this. What exactly are they seeing? Are they seeing an actual form, or is it merely a creation of their brain? We still don’t really know or understand the mechanisms behind how this works yet. All fascinating areas of research and inquiry.

And this discussion wouldn’t be complete if we leave psychedelics out of the equation as well. When people take Psilocybin mushrooms or LSD or DMT and see patterns in everything or streaks of color, is this information that is always there that is now being filtered out, or are these mere creations of the brain? While we know that for the most part, yes, the brain is creating these images due to distortions of how we process light and colors, it doesn’t fully explain the phenomenon people have when they can see sounds on psychedelics. Again — the research isn’t quite conclusive yet.

I guess in the end I’m just fascinated by the world we cant see. The world that surrounds us that we’re oblivious to. The data we exclude and filter out in our normal waking state. Understanding how these invisible waves and frequencies could be having an effect on us that we’re unaware of.

It’s also fascinating because, like the examples with bats and whales and shrimp and dogs, there are other animals that are using the same data that we filter out. They have tools that we don’t and vice versa. How can we work with and learn from these animals to gain a better understanding of this infinitely complex world we’re surrounded by?

These are questions I’ve been asking myself and something I’ve been wanting to put down onto paper for some time. An area of research I can dive into over the longer run. Perhaps even use this as a subject for a book one day if the evidence unravels in a way that depicts an interesting story. Who knows?

But for now this is my current understanding and exploration of the world that we can’t see. The status quo of where my mind lies today on this topic. Let this be the beginning of a long and interesting research path, or the end of an article and thought exploration I’ve been wanting to dive into. Let’s see where the story goes from here 🙂


Originally published at Troy Erstling.

Troy Erstling

Written by

Thoughts on how to live a happy life and perform at your best https://upscri.be/8c6085/

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade