Just Opened: Our Senses at American Museum of Natural History

Question some of your most basic sensory assumptions with the American Museum of Natural History’s latest exhibition, Our Senses. This immersive and experience-driven show promises to baffle and bend your mind and quickly follow up with seriously compelling science that explains not just how our senses work, but why and what’s missing. (Turns out:  quite a lot!) Read on for the scoop on this seriously fun show.

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Funhouse Footprint
The first of 11 funhouse-like galleries pares down the visual senses to a simple black and white palate. Viewers are presented with what appears to be a jumble of zebra-striped blocks, but as you move around the room and see the bricks from a different perspective, they become something much more recognizable.

This pattern of puzzle followed by solution is what orients visitors in this exhibition – the creators have set out to play games with us, turning things on their head and providing families with a show that’s as mind-bending as it is fun.

Show and Tell
In many ways, this is a sequel – or perhaps prequel – to the museum’s Brain: The Inside Story exhibit from a few years back. The show immerses visitors into situations, drawing attention to the light, chemicals, and information coming into the brain and looking at the mechanisms that have evolved to create a picture of the world around us.

For humans, a high-speed decoding of our surroundings has often proved more important than an accurate one. That can sometimes mean details are lost. Our complex eyes are designed to see a huge range of colors but what happens when the light changes? Get ready for an awesome visual treasure hunt!

Spot the Difference
While we might think humans have the sensory edge. visitors are quickly reminded of all the amazing animal and insect senses that aren’t on the human wavelength. In a landscape creatively made out of swim noodles, we learn how caribou see in ultraviolet, goldfish see infrared and sharks hunt with electroreception.

Linger in the next gallery where a soundtrack brings the city to life. Humans don’t hear the full range of sound frequencies so what can we learn from animals who do?  How can studying the biology of birds and reptiles help scientists researching hearing loss?

Take Your Time
While the show focuses on the five traditional senses of touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell it also introduces us to dozens more and leads us through various interpretive rooms that explain how we detect, predict and combine all that incoming data.

If all this sounds science-heavy, there’s only one display case in the entire show and the immersive exhibits involve button pressing, video viewing, dial turning, goggle wearing, flashlight swinging fun that will have the kids taking in all these complicated concepts like candy.

Live Presentation
A highlight of the exhibition is the 15-minute live presentation running every 30 minutes from 11 a. m.  to 5 p. m.. This theatrical element has been a big hit in past shows and allows visitors to ask questions and interact with someone who knows the science.

The presentation brings together everything from the exhibition, gets you out of your seat demonstrating your inner senses, explains why we are primed to see some things but ignore others and becomes an uplifting celebration of what humans can do (without the usual reminders of what we’re doing wrong!).

Only humans can create stories and share them through language, imagining the kinds of experiences we want and getting out in the world to create them, whether it’s through books, films, art, civic projects or for that matter, highly interactive family-friendly museum exhibits!

High-Tech Helpers
When our senses fail, humans have a habit of developing tools and technology to detect and interpret information for us. Welcome to the game lab! The exhibition’s final room takes visitors beyond their own perception to look at the next frontier in extending the senses. Look at microscopic details, a diffusion spectrum showing neural pathways, ultraviolet, fluorescent and satellite imaging and wonder with awe where our senses have led us.

American Museum of Natural History
Tickets: Adults $28, Children $16.50
Central Park West & 79th St,
New York, NY
Opens: November 20th, 2017
Online: amnh.org

Do you plan on going to explore AMNH’s Our Senses exhibition? Let us know in the comments below.

—Emily Myers

all photos courtesy of American Museum of Natural History


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