New Immersive Exhibition Our Senses Opens November 20 

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Those bunches of yellow flowers you passed by this morning at the corner deli? The muffled announcements you strained to hear on your train this morning? The sour-sweet wafts of garbage on New York City sidewalks? Every day, we perceive the world around us through some or all of our senses—including sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste, and balance. But as it turns out, “reality” isn’t always what it seems to be.

The new highly experiential exhibition Our Senses: An Immersive Experience, which opens November 20, delves into how our brains work with sensory organs to shape and reframe our perceptions of everyday encounters. And it reveals how, until recently in our evolutionary history, humans have been oblivious to nature’s other crucial signals, including UV light and electrical fields.

 

Three images of the same coneflower, with each one appearing to be a different color.

Different species may perceive this flower in different ways.

© Dr. Klaus Schmitt, uvur.eu


But our senses are only part of the story, anyway. What we do sense is shaped by our brains into perceptions, often through an active process of knitting together information from sensory organs and filling in gaps from memories of past experience. Human brains are wired in part based on what helped our ancestors survive: noticing movement and paying attention to faces, for example. 

 

A group of adults and children show expressions of interest and delight while viewing something off-camera.

Facial recognition is an instinctive trait that allows our brains to focus and perceive information, and one of the many topics explored in Our Senses.    

© AMNH/C. Gleberman


Other species’ brains, however, prioritize different signals: dolphins use more of their brains for hearing, because they navigate by sonar, and coyotes pay more attention to signals from their nose, since they depend on scent to find food. Visitors to Our Senses will be able to compare and rotate 3D images of the brains of a coyote, dolphin, and human. 

 

(left) Silhouetted figures stand in a room covered with wavy lines; (right) silhouetted figures view a wall with different-colored designs.

Test your perception inside the exhibition’s 11 immersive environments.

© AMNH/D. Finnin


Curator Rob DeSalle, whose recent exhibitions have included Brain: The Inside Story and The Secret World Inside You, curated this uniquely experiential exhibition, which features a virtual garden that visitors will explore through the eyes of a bee or a snake; an audio collage challenging visitors to test their skill at tracking individual sounds; illusions that make flat surfaces appear rippled, and more.

 

Girl stands in front of a display of larger-than-life flowers and butterfly.

One exhibit lets visitors explore a virtual garden from the perspective of different animals. 

© AMNH/D. Finnin


Plus, discover why we have senses—and what’s unique about them—in a live presentation in the gallery.

Members see Our Senses first! Previews begin Friday, November 17 through Sunday, November 19, from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit Our Senses. 

A version of this story originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Rotunda, the Member magazine.