So Close, and Yet So Far
But the closer we look at the individual parts of the end-to-end perceptive process, the more we can actually see that even the most up-close-and-personal sense is an experience in distance.
First off, we cannot help but experience the outside world from a distance. After all, we’re not glommed onto everything around us; we’re individual beings moving independently through space and time. We may put our noses closer to something to give it a sniff, we may pull something nearer to get a better look at it, or we might lean in to listen, but there’s always some distance to cross between the thing and our sensory receptors. Even taste and touch involve distance outside of ourselves, as we put food to our mouths and reach out to touch.
And after we close the physical distance outside ourselves, we have still more distance to cover. As our sensors pick up stimuli from the world around us, a combination of electrical and chemical signals ferry impulses along neurons to the spinal column and on up to the brain, where the information is decoded and another set of signals makes the return trip to respond to the sensation. Sensory electro-chemical impulses must travel the lengths of millions, even billions of neurons in a mind-bogglingly intricate network.