Exploring the senses


When we talk about our senses we usually think of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. These are the so called ‘Aristotelian Senses’ as prescribed by the ancient philosopher Aristotle. In modern times, scientific fields such as neuroscience and the philosophy of perception recognises many more senses, arguably up to as many as 23.

Today we focused on the main 9 senses that we use to navigate the world around us.

Vision                                                                    Sight

Audition                                                               Hearing

Gustation                                                            Taste

Olfaction                                                              Smell

Tactition                                                               Touch

Thermoception                                                 Temperature

Equilibrioception                                              Balance, Gravity

Proprioception                                                  Spatial / bodily awareness

Nociception                                                        Pain

Along with artist Kate DeRight, we explored these senses through a series of activities.



Photo cr: Max Wisotsky


Activity : Without looking at your paper, draw a portrait of the person sitting next to you

Observation : The measurement of proportion and distance is largely reliant on the eyes. When you cannot use that reference for your drawing it becomes very distorted as it is hard to control how far your hands are going. Those who are more timid end up moving their hands too little and squashing the drawing into a small corner, others more rash would overestimate proportions.


UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2ef8 Photo cr: Max Wisotsky


Activity : Rank 3 pieces of sandpaper in level of roughness.

Observation : One piece of sandpaper was an obvious outlier but the other two were extremely similar. When stroking the paper in one direction it is hard to tell the difference but stroking the paper in different direction it is possible to feel some thicker grains on the rougher piece to help distinguish the two.


Audition / Proprioception

Activity : A group stand in the middle of a circle blindfolded whilst the outer circle of people make sounds in a round

Observation : The middle group were able to follow the direction of the sound and even able to picture it in their minds the type of sound and how it was being produced (ie clapping, clicking, stomping). When the outer group came closer, the middle group were able to sense the proximity of someone moving towards them despite not being able to see.



Activity : Walk heel to toe in a straight line from one end of the room to another with eyes open at first but then closed half way through

Observation : Your vision is able to guide your movements by using reference points in the environment around you. When this is taken away you lose a major aid for balance so you start relying on other ways of balancing. Once they close their eyes, most people automatically raise their arms to help them balance. Some people found concentration helped them to finish the task whereas others found it a hindrance as they became overly cautious. A few people found that not thinking too much and just doing it helped to overcome the unsteadiness.



Photo cr: Max Wisotsky


Activity : Raise both hands straight above your head, keeping one completely still touch your nose with the other, then find the thumb of your top hand, touch your nose, find the second finger, touch your nose etc.

Observation : Doing the activity the first time it was quite difficult to find your thumb. Some people went too far in the wrong direction, others underestimated how far their thumb was. Once the thumb was found it acted as an anchor point so that it was easier to find the other fingers. Doing this exercise again but whilst moving the thumb made the task easier as the movement acted as a reference point. Doing the exercise for a third time with eyes closed had mixed reactions. Some people were able to find their thumb much easier whilst others found it harder. Expectation also played a part in the latter tries as you would be more prepared and subconsciously already trying to sense for anchor points.



Photo cr: Max Wisotsky


Activity : Rest one hand on a heat pack and another on an ice pack for a few minutes. Submerge both hands into room temperature water.

Observations : Some people could feel the difference in temperature between the two hands whilst submerged into the water. Theoretically the ice pack hand should feel warmer water whilst the heat pack should feel colder water. However some people did not feel a huge difference, mainly because the conditions were not strong enough to inflict a stark reaction.



Activity : Hand slap game

Observations : It is hard to simulate pain in a classroom context so this exercise was not the most useful. In a situation of serious impending pain, there can be a tingly sensation that you can feel just prior to impact. It also depends a lot on experience to learn to associate certain actions with pain. For example a person that has been burnt before would be able to feel the impending sensation stronger than another person who has not been burnt before.  As with the hand slapping game, if you know that the slap will not be strong you are less likely to be too cautious or react too quickly to the impending pain as it will be minute.



Activity : Holding your nose close, pop a sweet into your mouth and start chewing. After a few chews release your nose.

Observations : Removing the sense of smell seems to also dilute the sense of taste. Once your release your nose a sudden burst of flavour comes through that was previously blocked.


Over the next few weeks we will be further exploring these different senses to design a multi-sensory installation that encourages the users to engage with their environment.


Written by : Rebecca Chim (M.Arch)

References : https://www.sensorytrust.org.uk/information/articles/senses.html

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