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Mind This Space: The psychology of our embodied senses

We’re all quite familiar with having five senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. These senses help us understand the world outside our body. The idea of five senses is so ingrained that having a ‘sixth sense’ is a clue that something isn’t right. But what about other physical sensations? Chris Eccleston, a psychologist at the University of Bath, is interested in this question. When talking to him, we found out that sensing is much more complicated than we’d thought.

As we go about our everyday lives in the world, it turns out that we use plenty of sensations other than the big five. The big five help us figure out what the world ‘out there’ is like. Sensations like balance, strength, breathing, fatigue, and pain help us understand how we are in relation to the world. We all live in a body through which we experience the world. This body sets possibilities and limits for how we can act and move in the world. Most of the time we can be unaware of sensations in our body, unless there’s a problem, or we’re trying to control it. Opera singers, yoga instructors, athletes, and free divers pay minute attention to their breath. And if you have a headache, it’s difficult to think of anything except the pain. These sensations help us make sense of how we can act in the world and the limitations on our activity.

In these three podcasts, Chris explores the often-hidden world of physical sensations, from appetite to sneezing. We encounter senses that disorient, confuse, embarrass, frighten, warn us of danger, and relieve discomfort. And we get answers to important questions.

What does perfect balance feel like?

Why is it so hard for people to continually do boring, repetitive tasks?

Why is farting funny?

 Featured image credit: Ballet stage lighting, by zaimoku_woodpile. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

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