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Alien Senses...
Posted: Posted February 25th, 2009 by Roose Hurro

I'm curious if any here have put thought into the senses and perceptions of their concritters... especially the non-humanoid, though if you have humanoid characters with extra or different senses, that also counts. I have several critters with extra senses... my newest, with a Third eye capable of seeing the supernatural, one of my older critters with feeler antenae able to pick up environmental and biological electric energy fields (this allows them to pick up possible danger approaching, and to sense when and where lightning may strike). Roose's people also have similar sense organs (sensory feelers), though they are able to "see" patterns of energy in their environment (think LaForge's visor), as well as light with a normal set of eyes. Not just electric energy fields.

And not just those extra/different senses, but how your critter perceives the world around them with those senses. How those senses affect them physically and psychologically....

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This might get more response in magic/scifi- mind if I move it?

Physically, senses can pick up any kind of energy or field that is variable.

Gravity (detect mass or acceleration- although very difficult with small amounts)

Light, from radio waves to UV, gamma, etc.

Smell, or particulate sense- being able to detect particles- possible from leptons and others to molecules and determine their natures and amounts. This could be compared to testing strong and weak force interactions, perhaps, or determining the energy something is carrying in mass by destroying it.

By extension, spectroscopy with light or other particle senses can determine composition at a distance when it is emitting detectable radiation in some form.

Touch/hearing- being able to detect pressure and vibration (this includes sound)

Electric fields- be able to detect is something is charged

magnetic fields

Spin, perhaps, polarity...

Charm, Topness, etc. It may be possible to determine these factors, but the field of quark physics is not completely worked out, so that's just speculation.

Maybe not as interesting a list as you'd get from adding in magic.

Posted February 25th, 2009 by Blake

How about polarized light vision? How would that affect how things are seen? Advantages, disadvantages?

Posted February 25th, 2009 by bloodb4roses

How about polarized light vision? How would that affect how things are seen? Advantages, disadvantages?

That's just light with a filter, and we actually have it (sort of- just very, very weakly). Advantages would be being able to discern direction in certain weather conditions... not much else I'm aware of.

Posted February 25th, 2009 by Blake

I'm curious if any here have put thought into the senses and perceptions of their concritters... especially the non-humanoid
Well, I have. But reading the rest of this thread makes me think I need to organize that information before just dropping it here. I'll be back later.

Posted February 25th, 2009 by chiarizio

Advantages would be being able to discern direction in certain weather conditions... not much else I'm aware of.

Which weather conditions?

Posted February 25th, 2009 by bloodb4roses

Advantages would be being able to discern direction in certain weather conditions... not much else I'm aware of.

Which weather conditions?

I don't remember precisely, sorry... I think it with with cloud cover, such that one couldn't see the sun, but the light coming from one direction is slightly polarized by the Earth's something or other.

I'm not really very good with optics, it's been a while.

Posted February 25th, 2009 by Blake


Yes, if you think it will get more responses, then by all means, move away....

Perhaps not as interesting a list, but I was thinking more along realistic terms than magical terms, at least in my own characters, but magical senses would certainly open the field up to more possibilities.

Spin, perhaps, polarity...

Charm, Topness, etc. It may be possible to determine these factors, but the field of quark physics is not completely worked out, so that's just speculation.

This is what Roose's people are able to detect with their sensory feelers (seelers), and more, all the way down to quantum level events, within both the environments they live in and within living things, as well. What you might call the ability to perceive auras, only more complex and detailed. It's had a major impact on their science and technology, to the point where they have a technology sophisticated and different enough to be considered indistinguishable from "magic". They can forge swords able to cut through auras, as well as flesh. Copy the Spirit of a dying individual, and record it onto a crystal seed, later to be grown into the power core of a starship (slideship). Craft stones able to treat physical conditions and disease... just slip the appropriate stone under your tongue, and it can do everything from eliminating nightmares to providing energy to the tired to...?... well, many other things. Let's just say Roose's people "see" the Universe in a very unique fashion.


Yes, birds have polarized vision... at least, those who prefer fish. Cuts the glare on the water, and allows them to see their prey moving under the surface.


Hope to see your contribution soon....

Posted February 25th, 2009 by Roose Hurro

I've always been intrigued by senses and the way the mind makes -errr- sense out of them. One photoreceptive cell allows to distinguish light and dark, or day and night. Two cells allow to determine the direction of light. Cells in a cavity allow to focus vision. A million cells allow to recognize shapes and gestures. Nature has come up with a stunning variety of eyes, and more importantly neural structures to make good use of them.

People in Osara perceive the world in a similar way as your people, Roose Hurro, but because of the way the universe is structured. All space is taken by living cells that communicate steadily, and the bigger living beings, who are made of those cells as everything else, have evolved to translate those signals into more elaborate nervous or mental representations, conscious or not. It's rather difficult to imagine what the daily life is in such circumstances, and I admit I have dampened all that down a bit in the beginning. Finding metaphors to express the world of those perceptions is rather hard, but conlanging should help giving some concepts more flesh.

I'm short of time and energy lately, so I'm sorry if I don't make much sense. Anyway I'm glad to see so many newcomers telling about their conworlds. Keep it up!

Posted February 28th, 2009 by Leo

Various being on Etrea have senses for magic or the energy produced. Danpyr depend on it in a similar way humans depend on sight. But it has elements of pressure sensing, sight and smell, since they manipulate and "ingest" this energy to some extent. Other beings have this sense, or a similar sense, but some are more accute than others.

Posted February 28th, 2009 by bloodb4roses

One word: Horrors.

But since that doesn't really explain much, I'll elaborate. But in order to do that, I have to first explain the unexplainable, if that makes sense (and in reading that handy link, it should). See, Horrors are displaced sentient intellects of immense power (very finite in number, still working on how many of them there are, and if it'll ever be relevant to the setting, but I digress), things that no one in-world understands beyond the incredibly frustrating and disturbing process of trying to study them. The mortal world never actually deals with them directly, but rather, they deal with the manifestation of their power when they slide through momentary breaches in reality.

The true entities lack all five normal senses, as they exist in a void (technically, the Void, in setting terms). There's no sound for them to hear, no light to allow them to see, no matter for them to touch, no scents for them to smell, and no flavors for them to taste. They don't even know of each other, as the Void is designed specifically to isolate anyone foolish enough to enter (possible tie-in to how the Horrors were created, but again, I digress). As a result, they've developed some pretty unusual senses all their own.

First, and the one that drives them absolutely insane with discontent, they can sense through the barrier of the Void and into the mortal world. Their intelligence has developed in a way that allows them to mentally observe a world that is now forever denied to them. The clairsensate sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings that we all take for granted are like salt in a wound for them. They don't process them the way that we do, because they don't fully comprehend what it is that they're sensing (theoretically, they did once, but they've been discorporated in the Void for so long that they don't remember them properly).

Second, and the one that exacerbates their discontent more than anything else, they can sense the brain waves of mortals beyond the veil, the same way that we overhear conversations in a store. They can't turn it off or shut it out. When they extend their senses into the world, not only are they assaulted by the myriad of senses that we take for granted, but they're bombarded with every single thought of the mortal minds nearby - every deep contemplation, every impulse, every reaction, every hope, every dream, every fear - and they can't shut them out or focus on any of it.

Third, and final, they can sense the strength of mortal vitality. When they've extended their minds into the world, they know how healthy or how sickly the nearby mortals are. They know when mortals are born. They know when mortals die. They know when mortals are in a fragile state, be it injured or infirm, or on the process of committing suicide. This is perhaps the only sense that gives them any sort of comfort, as they can see the suffering of the insignificant little pests that drive them so utterly insane with their pointless droning thoughts.

Of course, when they actually manifest, their senses become more limited. They can shut out the thoughts of others, they can actually experience mortal sensations rather than the vicarious mental impression of them. They make it all that much easier for the Horrors to justify causing as much suffering as they can when they cross over.

Alien enough?

Posted March 1st, 2009 by Tharivious

Incidentally, the human eye is capable of detecting a single photon.

@Blake: Don't forget how much you can add to that list of senses if you have something capable of revealing it first-hand, rather than second-hand (and a brain to figure it out). For example, sonar shows the distance and basic vibrational properties of something.. whereas hearing can only detect it if something else makes it vibrate. Similarily, we can use flashlights to enhance our senses when there isn't that much light (some animals do that too, especially underwater ones).

It may be possible to direct a stream of energy at something to get its particles to "loosen up", and then detect their smell. Or a spray of chemicals or something else.

Or accelerate something from afar, to tell how much mass it has. It would probably require a highly trained eye or ear though.

What would be really interesting is a sense organ that can detect changes in neutrinos (difficult since millions of neutrinos pass through the earth's core a second).

Also, of course, none of the above senses have to be conscious.. it would increase processing power and get rid of subjective bias if, say, the neutrino-sense was a feeling rather than a sense.

Same deal with our senses.. there's a lot that's detected by our eyes, for example, that we don't notice. Processing that goes on at a very low level, to a point where it feels like "I'm being watched" because that low level of the brain has seen something that the conscious mind hasn't. If you doubt that our brains could really do that, don't forget that they ARE the most advanced brains on the planet, and that extends to things far beyond sapience and consciousness.

Magic senses

Depending on how magic works in your world, magical senses would probably be a part of the brain with magical qualities. It would need some way of influencing the brain.. holistically would be very useful but is a little deus ex machina. Electrochemical is possible, but the brain would have to be programmed in some way to detect its own slightly less chaotic movements as a sense.

If a magic sense is some particular region of the brain (or heart or whatever, hooked to nerves), it could be lost.. however if it's more a function of the overall brain, then losing it would be much harder and more holistic-seeming (ie, when it gets fatigued you'd feel that you were out of mana).

Of course, magic could simply influence the brain directly.. but then schitzophrenia and other mental illness would be very prevalent, since magic information is going to change constantly and therefore the brain's patterns are going to be changed constantly (and randomly, or at least seeming that way).

Interesting thoughts. Good post!

Posted March 3rd, 2009 by Xhin
Nature is beautiful

Man, the Horrors are interesting, tharivious! I like the explanation you give to all of them, and their possible origin, etc.

Only problem I see is, wouldn't the horrors grow used to the constant barrage of mortal thoughts? They seem to be, if they're able to discern specific mortals (ie, when a banished chooses a mortal). So why are they still made insane by it, if they're capable of blocking some out?

Posted March 3rd, 2009 by Xhin
Nature is beautiful

Man, the Horrors are interesting, tharivious! I like the explanation you give to all of them, and their possible origin, etc.

Only problem I see is, wouldn't the horrors grow used to the constant barrage of mortal thoughts? They seem to be, if they're able to discern specific mortals (ie, when a banished chooses a mortal). So why are they still made insane by it, if they're capable of blocking some out?

They can only block them out while they're manifested in a more limited form, which is incredibly difficult for them to accomplish, not to mention highly draining mentally and "physically" (for lack of a better term). Manifesting causes them to exist simultaneously in two worlds, and in order to do that, they have to cross through from the Void and enter the shell of a body or some immobile object, which aren't always available or suitable to their needs, and rarely last for more than a week or two (since the unnatural presence of a Horror's sentience essentially burns them out like a filament in a light bulb; Voidspawn can last up to a month if the host body is strong enough). Of course, they're also vulnerable to physical attacks while they're in one of the manifested forms, making every incursion uncertain (not that the average mortal can stand in the way of a Voidspawn, mind you, but there's a good 1 in 10 chance that someone can slow it down), since if a manifestation is destroyed, the Horror goes back to the Void in a very jarring manner.

Now, with the Banished manifestations, you're looking at the full sentience that has temporarily freed itself from the barrage of thoughts and regained a semblance of coherent thought because of that. They tend to focus on the thoughts that they heard the loudest before manifesting, tracking down the ones that were annoying them the most the same way that most would target a particularly annoying fly, a sort of loudest-wheel-gets-the-grease thing. They're creatures of obsession, more so than precision. That the Banished can only manifest for brief windows (sometimes as short as a few minutes, others several hours) only makes it more agonizing when their minds return to the Void and the barrage resumes.

Posted March 3rd, 2009 by Tharivious

however if it's more a function of the overall brain, then losing it would be much harder and more holistic-seeming (ie, when it gets fatigued you'd feel that you were out of mana).

Considering that there are body senses (sensing where joints are, if you are hungry or thirsty, etc) The above seems the most likely. Danpyr would also need to know what energy to take in, how much, etc, since they are basically energy sinks. But they're more flexible about what they can do with the energy they take in.

Posted March 3rd, 2009 by bloodb4roses

Well, I have the telepathy thing, but still no solid decision on how it works. Pheromones, tiny little radios, one giant brain whose neurons can tunnel through the fabric of reality and take shortcuts through space?

Posted March 8th, 2009 by lryda mbazha

My Kigdatsi (human-created; roughly dragon-shaped) have a sense I call "REMS" -- remote electromagnetic sensing. Via some slightly handwavey physics that is supposed to be compatible with ours, they (or others, or devices) can sense the presence of electric and magnetic fields that do not pass through the sensor. For example, sensing the brain at work, or the voltage across a battery, or a wire inside a wall. The three ridges of cells down their forehead (for sensing), along with a large fraction of the neurons in their head (for interpreting), give them (e.g.) brain-imaging capability beyond that of current human technology *here*. (They do not lie to one another, and do not desire privacy.)

They could use Newton's third law along with their telekinesis (kinda) to feel objects (if there is no matter in a region, there will be no reaction force) in a way analogous to feeling things with one's hands, but less informative.

(For details, see http://conworlds.fun/cwbb/viewtopic.php?t=65)

More mundanely, they have wide-band radio transmission and reception, which they use for language, wider-than-human-spectrum vision and hearing, and the ability to sense light polarisation. Their designers/ancestors thought all of the above would be useful.

Posted March 15th, 2009 by simon.clarkstone

Mantis shrimp https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantis_shrimp#Eyes have 12 to 16 kinds of photoreceptors in their eyes, compared to 3 kinds for humans. One of my conspecies, or maybe some of my AIs, will also be able to see those things.
Bees (among other insects, especially pollinators) and some birds can see ultraviolet.
Snakes and some other coldblooded predators of warmblooded prey can see infrared; they actually have organs that can focus it, like a pinhole camera, and probably form an image.
Birds’ eyes’ colorvision never confuses any mixture of two wavelengths for one other wavelength. They don’t see red-and-green as yellow, nor red-and-yellow as orange, nor yellow-and-blue as green, nor green-and-blue as midori.* This is because some of their cone cells contain a drop of oil that absorbs a specific range of colours, either just shorter than or just longer than the frequency at which the cone’s photoreactive chemical has its peak sensitivity.
I might give some conspecies of mine all of those sensory advantages.
*(But for all I know they may see some mixtures of orange-and-midori as identical to some mixtures of yellow-and-green.)

Star-nosed moles can sense something in the soil that most other mammals can’t. I don’t know what it is; I don’t think any of us know. We can describe the structure of the organ, but not its function. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star-nosed_mole

Many animals can sense the presence or absence of some chemical that many other animals cannot sense; either by smell or by taste or by touch. I’d like some conspecies of mine to be able to sense some of these.

In near-vacuum micropressure and(/or?) near-weightless microgravity, molecules would travel in so nearly-straight lines, that an animal or robot could make use of a chemosensory organ that functions a lot like an eye. It could have a pinhole instead of a lense. It would be “filled” with vacuum (that is, it would be empty), instead of vitreous humor. Instead of rods and cones, its retina would consist of cells that have various responses to various chemicals, whether molecules or radicals or ions. Instead of colours it would sense different classes of chemicals. In general it would use molecules and radicals and ions, the way eyes use photons. It might have an iris to make the pinhole larger or smaller.

Two such organs could let the organism smell/see in stereo.

I think that sense, as well as the colour vision from ultraviolet to infrared, are probably just about tailor-made for the spacegoing phase of my “space-centipedes”. The star-nose would be good for some members of their class or order (“triphibians”) who had a burrowing phase as one of their three-phased lives. Things real live animals can do with hearing, would also be of more use to an animal that lives on or in a solid body of dirt, or a body of water or other liquid, or an atmosphere capable of carrying perceptible sound, than to an organism that lives mostly in micropressure and/or microgravity.


Among RL vertebrate animals that live in water, and have never had an ancestor that lived on dry land, there are really only two senses:
  • sight
  • touch/hearing/smell/taste.

    (I’m leaving out proprioception, balance, thirst and hunger and fatigue and horniness, and other senses having more to do with the organism sensing the state of its own body, rather than the situation in the outside world.)

    Fishes have a “lateral line system”, from which terrestrial tetrapodal land-vertebrates’ organs of hearing and smell and taste, are derived. A fish can “taste” or “smell” anywhere on the surface of its body. There’s no difference between smelling something in the water, and tasting the water. There’s no difference between hearing something, and feeling the water vibrate. And the lateral-line system can do all that.

    For land vertebrates, however, to be able to taste something, it has to be soluble in water and soluble in fats. To smell it, it has to also be volatile.


    We know that there are hairy cave-dwelling spiders, who have no need to see because they and their ancestors and descendants have lived their entire lives in complete darkness for generations, whose hairs are so sensitive to movements and pressure-changes in the air that they essentially “hear” very well; well enough to substitute that sense for sight. https://texashillcountry.com/international-research-team-discovers-new-species-large-cave-dwelling-spider-mexico/ https://www.livescience.com/58644-big-furry-spider-discovered-in-cave.html Those may be them. Or maybe they’re the following; https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2186447/The-unique-eyeless-spider-spent-life-underground.html https://www.livescience.com/22232-eyeless-spider-adapted-darkness.html

    And, yeah, to have them be able to migrate twice a year from one temperate zone to the other, I’d probably like some critter of mine to either be sensitive to light’s polarisation
    ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3049006/#s3title ),
    or to the planet’s magnetic field
    ( https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/27/science/study-sheds-light-on-how-pigeons-navigate-by-magnetic-field.html ),
    or both.
    Also, maybe one of them could be sensitive to electric fields, like RL electric eels are. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroreception#Electrolocation

  • Posted January 11th by chiarizio

    See https://www.jstor.org/stable/3558809?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
    and https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0008992

    Also see https://cbb.aveneca.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=613&p=28781&hilit=bird+color+vision+oil+drop+cone+cell&sid=50ff48f9c86ffe722fc9f79a38a097dc#p27446 https://cbb.aveneca.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=613&p=28781&hilit=bird+color+vision+oil+drop+cone+cell&sid=50ff48f9c86ffe722fc9f79a38a097dc#p28781 https://cbb.aveneca.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=613&p=28781&hilit=bird+color+vision+oil+drop+cone+cell&sid=50ff48f9c86ffe722fc9f79a38a097dc#p29157
    Actually that whole thread is relevant to this thread, or, at least, that whole thread on the CBB, including all the posts not by me, is relevant to at least my own posts on this thread of the CWBB.

    Posted January 18th by chiarizio

    See http://conworlds.fun/cwbb/viewtopic.php?t=1556&highlight=mantis+shrimp for stuff about mantis shrimps’ visual “superpowers”.

    Posted January 24th by chiarizio

    I was rereading the Subterranean Sight thread and it has inspired me to decide that one of the reasons all adult dwarves —— not just males —— have facial hair, is to aid in echolocation.
    It should also serve as vibrissae.
    Perhaps pre-pubescent dwarves should also have vibrissae, though I suppose they won’t be much until they’re old enough to learn to walk, or to be weaned, or some such age.
    Maybe they should start coming in about the time the youngster starts cutting teeth; be at least minimally useful around the rugrat age; be useful beginning about the walking age; and well-established around the time the youngster masters toilet-training, or at least before “early childhood amnesia” starts (around 4y/o for RL humans).

    Posted February 13th by chiarizio

    Does anyone else have a comment to add?
    I hope so!

    Posted February 26th by chiarizio
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