The personal blog of the cultural ambassador to the newly discovered planet of the Ant-people (the Myrmeiods).

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Guest Post From the Myrmeoid Counterpart: Senses


I am taking the liberty of posting twice in succession in order to cover a topic that I did not have space for in my last post; the way we sense our world. We have come to the realization that many of you think we have poor eyesight and poor hearing, since we cannot communicate using these senses. This is incorrect; actually, our hearing and sight are arguably stronger than yours, though fair comparison is difficult.

In brief, my visual and auditory acuity are both slightly better than that of average humans (in this respect I am an average Myrmeoid). I can also see some ultraviolet shades, though what you see as deep red I see as black. My hearing is likewise sensitive to a higher pitch range than yours. I can hear some animal calls that you cannot, and some orchestral instruments are silent for me.

The difference between is is not one of acuity but of perception; we do different things in our minds with what we sense. I have been puzzling over how to describe our perception because, of course, I do not fully understand yours. For that matter, I do not fully understand mine, because, of course, I have never perceived the world in any other way. Language may offer a key; your word "image" does not correspond directly to any word of ours. It means a visually perceived form. This word is strange to us, because for us, form is inherently not visual. Form is tactile, or...I was going to write auditory, but that is not right. I hear using the fine hairs at the tips of one of my pairs of antenae, and I also use the same organs to perceive fine air movements and airborne scent. I can distinguish between smell and the other senses, but hearing and air current perception have a blurred boundary for me. It is the air currents, together with changes in background noise, that tell me the shape and location of something I cannot touch. I am told that you can do something similar, though not as well, and that the blind, and even the deaf and blind among you can sometimes form some idea of physical relationship in this way. But whether touching an object or not, I think of objects as touchable--Mr. Grisholm reports that he thinks of objects as images, even if he cannot see them. Perhaps this is analogous.

In your language you say an object IS red, or blue, or whatever other color, but our equivalent translates as closer to saying an object HAS red or blue color. For us, color is not an intrinsic property of an object, but we do attribute color and visual texture to objects we feel or "hear." I can tell which colors go with which objects. What I cannot do is make an object in my mind out of what is actually just a pattern of light. When I look at a video screen, I do not experience the illusion that it is a window on a three-dimensional world. I see a flat, colored object.

I can perceive concentrations of color or brightness, so I can find a window, even if it closed, and I can find an island to land on if I am flying across water. I can see changes in my visual field easily, meaning I can spot very tiny movements without any particular effort. Our apartment has been invaded by ants, and Mr. Grisholm did not notice them until we pointed them out--apparently, although his visual apparatus is equal to the challenge of seeing insects, he does not usually notice objects that small unless he is looking for them. We notice. Also, we cannot close our eyes, having no lids, and we see well in low light, so in some sense we are actually more visual creatures that you are; we cannot turn off our sight. Even in sleep, I can be startled and woken by a change in visual pattern.

As an interjection, I recognize that our ant problem will seem funny to many of you, because we are similar to ants in shape if not in size. We do not mind that humor, though we object to being called "ant-people." Of course, "Myrmeoid" means "ant-like," but at least it has no objectionable connotation. Our equivalent term for you translates as something like "branched worm," a term that should make clear to you why we don't like "ant-person," just as it also makes clear why we understand why you call us that. But no, I feel no personal kinship to ants, and I have no moral difficulty whatever with buying poisoned bait for them.

In terms of sound, I can recognize voices, hear emotional timbre (a learned skill, obviously, but I am learning), and differentiate notes and musical chords. I actually love music. Live orchestral performances are my favorite; they make my whole body, especially my wings, vibrate!

What I don't do is perceive time as intrinsic to sound. Your sense of rhythm is not only physical, but also auditory, and so sounds separated in time by less than a second still have a definite sequence for you. I am inclined to forget the order of sequential sound as soon as I hear it, which is why I cannot make sense of vocal language or remember songs.

On a different note (I have just learned this idiom, and I am pleased by the pun), our gratitude to Ambassador Kilmon; we read with interest his account of adapting the birthday ritual, and we decided to follow suit and have birthdays. Mine was last week, and several of my friends here rented out my favorite sushi place in the area. They even gave me a party hat, which of course I could not wear, but I did stand on top of it for pictures. Presents included a bottle of very fine Champagne (I don't know how I will drink such a monstrous thing, though it is fun to imagine trying--practically speaking I will probably give most of it away), a miniature bottle of brandy (more my size), several very fine pieces of rare fruit, a pair of Japanese-style chopsticks (not to use--they will make a fine souvenir), and a stained-glass lampshade without the lamp. This last may be my favorite; I like to stand inside it and look out through the pretty colors.

Afterwards, we visited a small shop that sells coffee, baked goods, and ice cream. I am fond of coffee drinks, and we ordered a chocolate cupcake with a birthday candle on top. I also tasted all eight flavors of ice cream, and I discovered that I am fond of ice cream as well. I find that in terms of physical pleasure alone, Earth is fantastic.

More touching, however, was the fact that I did not organize my own party, I only stated that I wanted one. My friends organized all of it, including figuring out what foods and gifts and activities would please me. I had not previously counted any human beings as friends, though I deeply appreciate the companionship and help of many, especially Mr. Grisholm. But as a public figure and an alien, I rarely interact with anybody except my fellow ambassadors who is not either paid to interact with me or motivated quite obviously by curiosity about my species. I had not known anyone, let alone so many, actually liked me personally.

So, now, as you noticed, I speak and write of "my friends."

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