Chapter 3. Sensing

HUMAN BEINGS ARE MARVELOUS perceptual, cognitive, and biomechanical creatures. We filter and process millions of pieces of sensory information every moment. We weave that information into a constantly updating view of ourselves, the people around us, and everything else in the world. What we think of as the five senses—vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell—are not what we think. They are actually multiple forms of perception working together. Riding our little round spaceship through the universe, we are bombarded with energy and atoms across four dimensions. And yet, human experience is not as elemental. We feel warmth and see color. We taste pizza and smell jasmine. The bridge between the realm of science and what we actually experience is our senses.

The Three Main Categories of Stimuli

Our bodies evolved to perceive things that had some significance, and therefore needed to be accounted for and possibly acted upon. The things that trigger the sensations we experience are varied, but fall into three basic types (see Figure 3-1).

There are three basic categories of stimuli that our senses perceive
Figure 3-1. There are three basic categories of stimuli that our senses perceive


Vision is the ability to detect frequencies of electromagnetic waves and interpret them as light and color. The strength of the wave, or amplitude, is perceived as lightness and darkness. The span of the electromagnetic spectrum ...

Get Designing Across Senses now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.