Brain Blueprints: Sensory Perception
Sensory perception enables us to perceive and interact with the world around us including ourselves. It begins with the reception of sensory information from the environment & our own body and ends with the mostly conscious awareness of these stimuli.
In this article, I’ll try to extract and overview the basic system as part of the Brain Blueprints Project.
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Your skin is a complex organ, roughly the size of a queen-sized bed which houses approximately 5 million cutaneous receptors. These receptors are responsible for detecting environmental stimuli such as temperature, pressure, and pain. Rather than sending this information directly to the cortex, the receptors first route it to the thalamus, which modulates and enhances the sensory information before it is processed by the brain.
Thalamus, small but mighty.
The Thalamus, while modest in size with an estimated 80 million neurons, plays a crucial role in the brain as it serves as a relay for the majority of signals from the environment, with olfaction being the only exception. However, it’s not just a simple relay; its main function is to add powerful modulation to sensory information.
Have you ever experienced a moment when a small skin injury suddenly seemed to overwhelm everything else? Or maybe you were engaged in intricate manual work, such as building a toy scale model, and suddenly became acutely aware of small details through touch? These sensations can be attributed to the Thalamus’ modulation of the sensory input it receives, modulation that can be derived from receptors (as with pain) or via higher cortical areas (as when focusing) and constitute the first stage of the system: