Friday, November 30, 2012

Remote Sight Sensing

As we consider the sense of sight, we may focus on the anatomy of the eye, how it functions to receive and transmit light-borne messages electrically to the brain and finally, what happens in our brains to integrate the electrical messages and provide conscious perception of the visual images. However, these events are only the last act in the drama of sight.

The story of vision begins with light stimuli generated from and transmitted across distant or nearby space. Human vision is an example of remote sensing. Remote sensing is a technological term applied to activities such as mapping, speed determination, collection of weather data, intelligence gathering, and other purposes. The technology makes use of electromagnetic radiation in most of its applications. Sound waves are also used to access information from remote locations. In all cases we gather information about the physical world from a distance, sometimes very great distances.

Less often the term remote sensing could be applied to human senses such as sight or hearing. Direct or reflected light is radiated at a distance from objects remote from us, finally to be captured by our vision sensors. Before the scientific advances of the past several hundred years, remote sensing would have applied only to human senses. The term originated in 1960. In the 21st century the term is used almost exclusively for technological marvels produced by man-made devices. “Reconnaissance at a distance” is an appropriate characterization of remote sensing for either application.

Lest we become overly enamored with modern inventions and technology, we wish to refocus attention on four aspects of the human sight sequence: (1) a distant source of light radiation, (2) the transmission of light radiation across distances of space ranging from very great to very close, (3) the bodily sensor organs, our eyes, and finally, (4) the processor of sight information, the brain, to which falls the responsibility of interpreting the electrical messages sent from the retina through the optic nerve and processing and converting the information into a conscious, meaningful experience.

In future posts we will focus on the astonishing physical processes of the human sight sequence. More remarkable is the plan of the Creator manifest in each aspect of the human sight sequence and collectively in the integrated process of sight from source to coherent intellectual recognition.

Many sources describe in detail knowledge of the physical and physiological events of the sight sequence. For laypersons interested in the science of light, sight, and the mental processing of visual signals, plentiful resources are available. Physical scientists have mastered the science of light production and transmission. The medical field has produced ophthalmologic knowledge and outstanding levels of patient care. Modern knowledge has progressed to an unheard of level within the last several generations.

The Christian view of the wonders of light and sight possesses a strong flavor of natural theology. Merriam-Webster defines the term as follows: “Theology deriving its knowledge of God from the study of nature independent of special revelation.” The term natural theology means different things to different people, notwithstanding that Merriam-Webster’s definition signals that knowledge of God and his attributes may be achieved by studying the wonders of nature. Very few scientists would avow that study of the natural world enables us to access knowledge of God. Their definition of the process of science precludes this acknowledgement. However, many Christians accept the Merriam-Webster definition.

Natural theology defined in this way provokes vocal objections from most professional scientists. Modern definitions of science, accepted by science professionals, would rule such a view out of bounds, because science has been declared to be an intrinsically limited discourse, limited precisely because its presuppositions are properly naturalistic.

We have digressed for a purpose, highlighting our knowledge of (1) the ability of matter to generate, under different conditions, virtually unlimited electromagnetic wavelengths, (2) the ability of a virtually infinite variety of electromagnetic energy to speed off through space, (3) man’s bodily and technological ability to detect thousands of different electromagnetic wavelengths and use them for multiple purposes, and (4) our ability to convert thousands of light data points to electrical images and mentally reconstruct the millions of electrical signals to produce a meaningful image. This is the extraordinary ability of the human body to convert light to sight.

Believing that light and sight is a naturalistic, random, purposeless effect, a progression of events without a cause, is irrational to an unimaginable degree. Even a fundamental understanding of just one bodily sense--the sense of sight--helps us to investigate and dismiss our doubts. Natural theology integrates the role of God as Creator with creation of the functional wonders of our natural world.