Making Sense of It All
This sort of experience happens every single day, in countless ways. We notice. We decide. We act. Sometimes we get it right and claim the last available parking spot in the crowded lot. Other times, we get caught in a sudden downpour. In every waking – and sleeping – moment, our systems are detecting and responding to the world around us, as sensory input provides a continuous stream of data, which we decode and interpret, so we can effectively engage with our environment.
Your boss informs you that your position is being phased out, and you can tell he’s incredibly uncomfortable by the tone in his voice and the way he’s shifting in his seat. The buyer’s attorney at the closing on your condo sale smells of alcohol at 10 a.m., so you double-check the paperwork; sure enough, some important forms were omitted. The house feels a little cold when you go home for lunch, and before the hour is out, you’re on the phone arranging to get the furnace serviced. A long look out the kitchen window while you’re eating your breakfast on Saturday morning shows you that it’s the first nice day in months. And suddenly your plans to clean the house and do some grocery shopping are a lot less important than just getting outside and enjoying the day with your beloved.
For that matter, our very lives may depend on our senses working properly. If your eyesight fails, you might slam into the back of a parked tractor trailer, wrecking the truck you’re driving and possibly killing yourself. If your hearing fails, you might run over the yelling kids who dash out from behind a car. Stepping onto soggy ground at a local park isn’t life-threatening, but what if that soggy ground is in a bog? You could find yourself sucked into an early grave. And if nobody hears your screams for help… Well, you get the point.
Whether near or far, in small ways or large, the continuous stream of sights, sounds, touches, tastes, and smells keeps us oriented, so we can find our place, play our part, and stay alive. They all coordinate in complex interactions to keep us moving, alert, and responsive to the changing world around us. We can live without one or more of our senses. Plenty of people do – many of them quite successfully. But the vast majority of us are in such constant, everyday contact with our sensory environment that we can’t even imagine how life would be without them.