Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sensory Intelligence

Our attention to the fresh fruits and vegetables at the local supermarket most often extends only to their visual attractiveness and taste quality. How often is the average person curious about the transportation system which brings the food from distant places in superior condition? With that knowledge our total understanding and appreciation of our food supply is expanded. Likewise, when we learn about sight or sound and include the process of seeing and hearing, our comprehension of these sensory gifts of common grace is greatly intensified.

Sensory systems are built into all living things from the simplest to the most advanced. Several characteristics outlined by life scientists as traits manifest by all living things relate to the manner in which they sense environmental factors, translate that information to control centers, and respond in ways which ultimately benefit the organism. For example, even simple one celled life responds to light, heat, and chemical signals to benefit their survival and help them deal effectively with their environment. It is difficult to imagine living creatures without organs to sense environmental factors and without the ability to respond. Sensory abilities enable metabolism, growth, and reproduction to succeed.

Recently we recalled sermon illustrations from our local pulpit ministry suggesting that we should acknowledge our ability to see and hear as manifestations of the grace of God. By conceiving grace in such a manner, we extend the more commonly perceived theological concept of grace acting to produce man’s redemption. Awareness of sensory mechanisms of vision and auditory perception produces an expanded vision of the meaning of God’s grace known as common grace. We may experience the same awe when we consider somatic (touch) sense, taste (gustatory) sense, and vestibular (balance) sense to be manifestations of grace. In this case, common grace augments our appreciation of special grace—God’s free offer of redemption.

Some secondary school and college biology courses deal in depth with the physiological events occurring in our bodies when sensory information is received and carried to the body’s processing centers. What happens when visible light strikes our body surface? How does the body process impulses of sound when they reach us? We ask the same “What really happens” questions with respect to touch, balance, taste, and odor. The answers supply an even richer dimension of grace.

Understanding the processes occurring in the body when we sense some form of energy in our environment—light energy, the energy of sound or touch, or even chemical stimulation such as taste or smell—may trigger a sense of wonder and enrich our understanding of common grace as a manifestation of God’s many gifts to humanity. There are some sensory phenomena that are reasonably easy to understand. Specialists in physiology may object to our effort at oversimplification, but we may be inspired to dig deeper.

Sensory information must travel from the receptor cells to the brain through neural pathways called neurons. It is well known that matter is electrical in nature. Positive and negative charges exist in neurons as well as in every body cell. The sensory message must travel to the brain through neurons in the form of a series of electrical charges. These electrical responses are called action potentials. For example, the optic nerve is a collection of one million neurons. What does each neuron carry to the brain? Merely a series of all or none electrical impulses. In simplest terms, the electrical messages carried by the neurons of each sensory system are simple messages of recurring “ons” or “offs.” These sensory systems provide all information we receive about the outside world.

Knowledge of the brain is a study in itself. When sensory information arrives at the brain, that organ must process the information and report it coherently so it may be analyzed and interpreted. To understand that the brain makes sense only of multiple “on or off” electrical impulses is to understand the divine genius of the Creator. Our Creator is standing by observing his intelligently designed works. God still pronounces all his works of creation “very good.”