top of page

Delightful Digs - Our Senses Determine Reality

It’s groundhog day! Whatever the whistle pig says, I’m already seeing signs of spring around the corner.

I'm also giving away TONS of free fiction by various authors to my newsletter subscribers again!

Not a subscriber? Sign up here.

Now onto the science!

How we perceive information through our senses determines how we experience the world.

Weird, right?

So, how do we filter incoming sensory information? We all have something called a neurological threshold. It’s the amount of stimulation needed for the nervous system (brain) to notice or react to stimuli. This is different in different people, and it impacts our responses in terms of behavior. We all have a baseline threshold, but it can vary daily, depending on whether we’re rested or tired. Our baseline can also vary within different sensory systems. For example, we can be more sensitive to touch than movement.

A model of our sensory input, and how it impacts our perception of reality and our behavior might look something like this:

Habituation is roughly what happens when our brain recognizes a stimulus as familiar and decreases our response.

Sensitization is the brain recognizing a stimulus as important or harmful and generating a heightened response.

When we have poor modulation—that is when we’re over or under sensitive to stimuli based on the makeup of our nervous system—we can exhibit maladaptive behavior. For example, if we’re too sensitive, we can behave in a way that appears overly excitable or hyperactive. If we’re too habituated, we can appear as lethargic or inattentive.

Now, our brain receives sensory input all the time that crosses a neurological threshold and triggers either sensitization or habituation, and then our brain recovers, going back to baseline. It occurred to me that an interesting concept to explore in fiction would be—what would happen if our brains didn’t return to baseline? That’s the question I’ll explore in next month’s free short story.

What I’m Reading

Mordew: Alex Pheby (Galley Beggar Press, 2020). Coming in at a whopping 702 pages, this novel consumed my reading time for this month. The book was compared to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, so I had to pick it up. Mordew uses the classic fantasy trope of a plucky, poor child who rises to greatness, but features immersive neo-gothic worldbuilding that’s impressive. It’s the first in a trilogy but, as a standalone, it’s a cautionary tale filled with corruption and injustice. If you’re hoping for a happy ending, you won’t find it here. Still, if you’re an epic fantasy lover itching for something different in the genre, this might be the book you’ve been looking for.

What I’m Watching

Cobra Kai – I was never a die-hard Karate Kid fan. I vaguely remember seeing the movie once as a child (crane pose, anyone?). However, Cobra Kai has a charming blend of cheesy nostalgia and characters trying hard—and repeatedly failing—to find redemption that can’t help but warm your heart. And Johnny Lawrence’s budding love affair with technology might be the most wonderful part of all.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – Based on the fantastic novel by Susanna Clarke (which I highly recommend), this series follows the only two magicians in England who are warring with each other over their view of how English magic should be conducted. Respectable and elite or intuitive and widely shared? And where does black magic and fairies figure into the picture? In their dangerous battle of cunning and violence, they may rip England, and themselves, apart. And I’m enjoying every minute of it.


bottom of page