Extra-Savory Perceptions

Can you smell that?

Ancient humans, the ones that literally swam from the primordial ooze, had a myriad of senses. Frances Van Atheris, a renown genomic biologist, set out to catalogue all 10,000 of them. She based her work on the Human Genome Project, taking her data from the so-called junk DNA that was isolated from stable gene deserts. She asserted that these regulator portions of the genome evolved over time to shut down unneeded senses. A deeply religious person, Frances rejected the term junk DNA as an oxymoron with respect to the miracle of the human body. Her favorite t-shirt read, “God Don’t Make No Junk!”

The challenge faced by Van Atheris and her team lay in the stark absence of a vernacular to describe the senses. While her colleagues had no problem understanding the chemical analysis of adenosine monophosphate, or the structural integrity of the myringa, she was compelled to fall back on such incongruous layman’s terms as umami and eardrum, which did nothing to explain sensations of taste and hearing. They were just words. As a result, part of the Myriad Mappping Project was to create a sort of family tree of senses to provide a visual cue as to, not only the origin, but also the possible function of the ancient senses.

The root of the tree, colloquially known as the proto-sensor, contained branches to 200 unequal segments. At the ends of five of those segments, Van Atheris placed the sensations of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. She wanted the map to clearly show how the process of evolution worked to impeach redundant and obsolete senses. She decided on the colors of the rainbow. So, going up from the endpoints, red lines connected to nodes of the tree with various descriptions and cross-reference codes for further reading. The next level up had orange connectors and so on, until the 200 violet connectors reached the proto-sensor.

The project was a success. Students of the map used it to support or debunk hundreds of human sensory experiences. Telekinesis was confirmed; déjà vu was explained away as a non-sensory glitch in neural firing. Itching eyes were discovered to be the remnants of senses related to taste, which was connected to a survival process that, over time, taught humans which plants, animals and other organics were safe to consume.

Frances Van Atheris was most proud of a discovery her own team made: synesthesia was the normal mode of human experiential interaction with the world.

Copyright © 2019 by Mitchell Allen

Originally appeared on CreativeCopyChallenge #591.

Author’s notes: Check out this Wikipedia article for more on this subject.

Myriad is from the Greek “myrias”, a number of ten thousand