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Thread: Touch, the underappreciated sense

  1. #1
    Senior Member Wesley's Avatar
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    Touch, the underappreciated sense

    As a quadriplegic, I've often been asked about the difficulties in adapting to disability. I find it difficult to fully communicate the profound nature of the loss of touch. touch and all the types of touch related senses are such a part of our being that it's hard for an AB person to conceive of its loss. Probably impossible.

    when I think about the possibility of cures, I dream of my hands working again.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/science/09angi.html
    Well, take a tip from the economy and keep downsizing. Scientists have determined that the human finger is so sensitive it can detect a surface bump just one micron high. All our punctuation point need do, then, is poke above its glassy backdrop by 1/25,000th of an inch — the diameter of a bacterial cell — and our fastidious fingers can find it. The human eye, by contrast, can’t resolve anything much smaller than 100 microns. No wonder we rely on touch rather than vision when confronted by a new roll of toilet paper and its Abominable Invisible Seam.

    Biologically, chronologically, allegorically and delusionally, touch is the mother of all sensory systems. It is an ancient sense in evolution: even the simplest single-celled organisms can feel when something brushes up against them and will respond by nudging closer or pulling away. It is the first sense aroused during a baby’s gestation and the last sense to fade at life’s culmination. Patients in a deep vegetative coma who seem otherwise lost to the world will show skin responsiveness when touched by a nurse.

    Like a mother, touch is always hovering somewhere in the perceptual background, often ignored, but indispensable to our sense of safety and sanity. “Touch is so central to what we are, to the feeling of being ourselves, that we almost cannot imagine ourselves without it,” said Chris Dijkerman, a neuropsychologist at the Helmholtz Institute of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “It’s not like vision, where you close your eyes and you don’t see anything. You can’t do that with touch. It’s always there.”

    Long neglected in favor of the sensory heavyweights of vision and hearing, the study of touch lately has been gaining new cachet among neuroscientists, who sometimes refer to it by the amiably jargony term of haptics, Greek for touch. They’re exploring the implications of recently reported tactile illusions, of people being made to feel as though they had three arms, for example, or were levitating out of their bodies, with the hope of gaining insight into how the mind works.

    Others are turning to haptics for more practical purposes, to build better touch screen devices and robot hands, a more well-rounded virtual life. “There’s a fair amount of research into new ways of offloading information onto our tactile sense,” said Lynette Jones of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “To have your cellphone buzzing as opposed to ringing turned out to have a lot of advantages in some situations, and the question is, where else can vibrotactile cues be applied?”

    For all its antiquity and constancy, touch is not passive or primitive or stuck in its ways. It is our most active sense, our means of seizing the world and experiencing it, quite literally, first hand. Susan J. Lederman, a professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Canada, pointed out that while we can perceive something visually or acoustically from a distance and without really trying, if we want to learn about something tactilely, we must make a move. We must rub the fabric, pet the cat, squeeze the Charmin. And with every touchy foray, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle looms large. “Contact is a two-way street, and that’s not true for vision or audition,” Dr. Lederman said. “If you have a soft object and you squeeze it, you change its shape. The physical world reacts back.”
    anyone paralyzed can also attest to the unreliable nature of touch. One quickly learns not to rely on conclusions made from faulty touch.
    Touch also turns out to be easy to fool. Among the sensory tricks now being investigated is something called the Pinocchio illusion. Researchers have found that if they vibrate the tendon of the biceps, many people report feeling that their forearm is getting longer, their hand drifting ever further from their elbow. And if they are told to touch the forefinger of the vibrated arm to the tip of their nose, they feel as though their nose was lengthening, too.

    Some tactile illusions require the collusion of other senses. People who watch a rubber hand being stroked while the same treatment is applied to one of their own hands kept out of view quickly come to believe that the rubber prosthesis is the real thing, and will wince with pain at the sight of a hammer slamming into it. Other researchers have reported what they call the parchment-skin illusion. Subjects who rubbed their hands together while listening to high-frequency sounds described their palms as feeling exceptionally dry and papery, as though their hands must be responsible for the rasping noise they heard. Look up, little Pinocchio! Somebody’s pulling your strings!

  2. #2
    Senior Member Ashley's Avatar
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    i find myself needing to touch things a lot more now post sci, i guess the sensation of different things is more appealing now because ive lost 75% of my skin touch receptors. I do miss it a lot
    Courage, it would seem, is nothing less than the power to overcome danger, misfortune, fear, injustice, while continuing to affirm inwardly that life with all its sorrows is good; that everything is meaningful even if in a sense beyond our understanding; and that there is always tomorrow.
    -Dorothy Thompson

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