Is a box a sensor?

A mysterious light flashed across the park — it was either the rapture, or something triggered by a sensor. I was hoping it was the latter, primarily because I was looking for sensors. So, that afternoon, I sought out the source.

Thing is, though, it was particularly hard to find sensors in the parks. Most stationary objects have outputs, but there are no input sensors for pedestrians. Street lights, benches, trash cans — they are not meant to take in information.

But during my search for the source, I found this guy:

At first, I wasn’t sure if accordion keys were sensors because it did not take the physical input and process it electronically. But sensors don’t need to be electronically powered; air is sufficient. Also, there is information processing going on here: An accordion turns a physical push into an audible sound. (As this guy shows, sometimes the information is not processed properly.) So I figured the keys were a sensor.

I also saw a few other things that use sensors, like ATMs, phone booths and this motion-sensitive soap dispenser:

Then I saw the blue flash again — right next to me.

The flash was operated by a photographer. He pushed a button (the sensor) and the flash went off. But this photographer also had an old-school camera — the kind that presumably took Abraham Lincoln’s photo. So I took a picture of it, thinking it was a sensor:

But then he opened up the camera, and it was just a box — an empty box with a lens on one side. There was obviously no sensor here; there was no input or output. It was just… a box. I figured the camera wasn’t a sensor, because it only shapes the information — it doesn’t “sense” it, per se.

So I asked to see the film. It is what takes in the visual information and converts it into a photograph — hence, the sensor.

However, here’s the thing: I think the human eye is a sensor. But the entire front of the eye is like that box camera — it only shapes the input; it does not sense it. And the same is true of those accordion keys, ATM buttons and phone booth numbers. But because these mechanism are more complicated than a box and film, we call these big, broad things “sensors.”

So perhaps the word “sensor” gets broader as we understand less about a mechanism.


Be proud of me: I resisted the temptation to push this sensor.

2 responses to “Is a box a sensor?”

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