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Have you ever stopped and wondered how you perceive the world? How does that combination of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling of surroundings build a picture of the time we spend consciously on this planet?
The human senses are indeed a wonderful thing – never more keenly felt than when one or more is lost. While we all know broadly what these senses do, it’s often surprising how little we know about the details of our senses.
So, let’s delve a little deeper.
The human eye is an incredible piece of technology. It can detect over 10 million colours and can process images in just 13 milliseconds. The eyes are always moving – even when we think they are still. This process is known as microsaccades, and they help keep our vision sharp.
Colour perception in the human eye is not only determined by the spectral composition of light but also by the context in which the colour is seen. Night vision is possible because of a type of photoreceptor called rods that are more sensitive to light than the cones responsible for colour vision.
The first creatures to develop eyes were thought to have emerged around 541 million years ago, during what is referred to as the Cambrian period.
The ear is another remarkable feat of engineering. It can distinguish sounds that are only a fraction of a second apart, which allows us to process speech and music. The ear is not only responsible for hearing but also plays a role in balance and coordination.
Our ears can pick up sounds from a range of different frequencies – from 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz, which is the range of human hearing. People with musical training have a better ability to distinguish sounds and pick out individual instruments in a musical piece.
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Our skin is covered in thousands of nerve endings that are responsible for detecting pressure, temperature, and pain – all the elements that make up our sense of touch.
Touch plays a crucial role in our emotional development and helps us build relationships with others. When babies are born, parents are encouraged to have “skin on skin” time for just this reason.
The sense of touch can be influenced by emotions, with a hug from a loved one feeling differently from a hug from a stranger. Some people have a heightened sense of touch, known as synesthesia, where they associate touch with colours or shapes.
Did you know that the average human adult has between 2,000 and 4,000 tastebuds located on the grooves of the tongue, known as the papillae. The tongue has different receptors for sweet, sour, salty, and bitter tastes, which work together to give us a complete flavour experience.
Our sense of taste is closely tied to our sense of smell, with 70-80% of our sense of taste coming from our sense of smell. Some people have a heightened sensitivity to bitter tastes, which is thought to have evolved as a way to protect us from toxic substances. Perception of taste can also be influenced by cultural and personal factors, such as liking or disliking certain foods.
The sense of smell is closely tied to our memory and emotions, with a familiar scent having the power to evoke powerful memories and emotions. The human nose can detect over a trillion different scents, making it the most sophisticated sense in terms of the number of different stimuli it can detect.
Our sense of smell is closely tied to our sense of taste, with the two working together to create a complete flavour experience. Some people have a heightened sense of smell, known as hyperosmia, while others have a reduced sense of smell, known as anosmia.
So, as we can see the human senses are complex and fascinating systems that allow us to perceive and interact with the world around us.