What Gives Meaning To Our Senses

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What Gives Meaning To Our Senses

Carl Pepman Vincent and Brooke Astor Professor of Physiological Psychology, Rockefeller University, New York, 1980-83. Editor of Olfaction and Taste, Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on…

A Brief History Of The Senses

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Ancient philosophers called the human senses the “windows of the soul”, and Aristotle described at least five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Aristotle’s influence was so lasting that many people still speak of the five senses as if there were no others. But the modern sensory catalog now includes receptors in the muscles, tendons and joints, which result in the kinesthetic sense (ie, the sense of movement), and receptors in the vestibular organs in the inner ear, which result in sensation. of balance. In the circulatory system, sensory receptors are sensitive to carbon dioxide in the blood or changes in blood pressure or heart rate, and there are receptors in the digestive system that simply mediate experiences such as hunger and thirst. Some brain cells may also participate as hunger receptors. This is especially true for cells in the lower parts of the brain (such as the hypothalamus) where some cells are sensitive to changes in blood chemistry (water and other digestive products) and even to changes in body temperature. the mind itself.

One way to classify sensory structures is according to the stimuli to which they usually respond; So, there are photoreceptors (for light), mechanoreceptors (for deformation or bending), thermoreceptors (for heat), chemoreceptors (for example, for chemical odors), and nociceptors (for painful stimuli). This classification is useful because it makes clear that different sensory organs can share common features in the way they convert (transmit) stimulus energy into nerve impulses. Thus, auditory cells and vestibular (scale) receptors in the ear and some receptors in the skin all respond similarly to mechanical displacement (deformation). Because many of the same principles apply to other animals, their receptors can be studied as models of human senses. In addition, many animals are endowed with special receptors that allow them to detect stimuli that humans cannot sense. The pit viper, for example, boasts a receptor with excellent sensitivity to “invisible” infrared light. Some insects have receptors for ultraviolet light and pheromones (chemical sex hormones and aphrodisiacs unique to their species), thereby also surpassing human sensory capabilities.

(1) All sensory organs contain receptor cells that are particularly sensitive to one type of stimulus energy, usually within a limited range of intensity. Such selectivity means that each receptor has its own “appropriate” or normal or normal stimulus, as, for example, light is the appropriate stimulus for vision. However, other (“insufficient”) energies can also activate the receptor if they are intense enough. So you can “see” pressure when, for example, you put your thumb on a closed eye and see a bright spot (phosphine) in the field of vision opposite the place you touched.

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(2) The sensitive mechanism for each option is often located in the body in a membrane or receptive surface (such as the retina of the eye) where transducer neurons (sensory cells) are located. Often the sensory organ incorporates accessory structures to transmit the stimulating energy to the receptor cells; Thus, the cornea and the normally clear lens in the eye focus the light on the sensory nerve cells in the retina. Retinal nerve cells themselves are more or less protected from non-visual energy sources by the structure surrounding the eye.

(3) The primary transducer or sensory cells in each receptor structure usually connect (synapse) with secondary, incoming neurons (afferents) that carry the nerve impulse. In some receptors, such as the skin, the individual primary cells have filamentous structures (axons) that may be meters long, winding just below the surface of the skin through subcutaneous tissues until they reach the spinal cord. Here, each skin axon terminates and synapses with the next (second order) neuron in the chain. In contrast, each primary receptor cell in the eye has a very short axon contained entirely within the retina, which synapses with a network of several types of second-order neurons called interneurons, which in turn, synapse with third-order neurons. . neurons called bipolar cells – all still in the retina. The axons of the bipolar cells extend afferently beyond the retina, leaving the eyeball to form the optic nerve, which enters the brain to form additional synaptic connections. If the visual system is considered as a whole, the retina may be an extended part of the brain on which light can fall directly.

From such afferent transmitters, additional higher-order neurons form increasingly complex connections with anatomically separate pathways from the brainstem and deeper parts of the brain (eg, the thalamus) that ultimately terminate in specific receptive areas in the cerebral cortex (the convoluted outer shell of the brain). Different sensory reception areas are located in certain areas of the cerebral cortex – for example, occipital lobes at the back of the brain for vision, temporal lobes at the sides for hearing, and parietal lobes towards the top of the brain for tactile function. Reader support helps keep our browsers free for everyone. Support our mission by making a gift today. X

In the 1970s, psychologist Diana Deutsch discovered a vocal illusion that made her feel like her brain was a little broken. “I think I entered another universe or went crazy or something… the world just turned upside down!” Deutsch remembers.

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Like the visual illusions that trick our eyes into seeing impossible things, the audio illusion that Deutsch discovered in the 1970s tricks your ears. You can listen to Deutsch’s “Illusion Octave” here for yourself. Make sure you are wearing headphones (this may not work with speakers).

Once you press play, a sample of sounds is displayed in each ear. One is a repeating pattern of a high note followed by a low note, and the other is the opposite: a low note followed by a high note.

The key: Both ears receive both high and low sounds, but you’ll likely only hear the high tone on one side of your head and the low tone on the other.

Sometimes delusions make us feel as if, as Deutsch says, something is wrong with our minds. But really, these misconceptions actually show how our brains work.

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Sound enters our ears, light enters our eyes, chemicals spray into our noses and mouths, and mechanical forces graze our skin. It is up to our intelligence to understand what it all means and create a seamless conscious experience of the world.

Illusions teach us that our reality is not a direct real-time feed from our ears, eyes, skin and the rest of our bodies. Instead, what we experience is our brain’s best guess.

Sometimes, when the information coming to our senses is confusing, our brain needs to edit parts. Other times, our brains need to fill in some gaps with absolute guesses. Our reality, ultimately, is constructed by our intelligence, constructed from our imperfect senses, and based on our past experiences.

But how does our brain do it? And how can scientists use this information to help people, invent new tools or better understand ourselves? That’s the subject of Making Sense, a six-part series from Unexplainable, a podcast about unanswered questions in science.

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Our first episode explores our sense of hearing, and what the insights derived from Deutsch’s research mean for a person who has lost his, and then tries to listen to a favorite piece of music again. Listen to the full episode wherever you listen to podcasts. And transcripts of all our episodes are available here.

Babies born prematurely can experience a dozen or more painful procedures a day in the first weeks of their lives, and the volume of all that pain can leave lasting marks on brain development. But doctors have limited options for soothing these babies. Scientists suspect there is healing power in a parent’s touch, but it will take more than research to harness it.

A long-standing dream of smell researchers is to build an artificial nose – a device capable of replacing bomb-sniffing dogs. A scientist has developed a machine that can smell. The thing is: he doesn’t know how it works. But is this really a problem?

How many flavors are there? For thousands of years there was a simple answer: four. sweet, sour, salty and bitter. But since umami was recognized as a fifth taste 20 years ago, the question has become much more complicated. What makes a taste:

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