Perception and Senses

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato (428-348 BCE), believed that we perceive objects and events through our senses and with our mind. Twenty-four hundred years ago, he understood that in order to construct the outside world inside our heads, we must detect the energy from the environment surrounding us and then encode it as neural signals. 

Bottom-Up Sensation

This process is called Bottom-up Sensation, or analysis, that begins with the sensory receptors and works up to our brain’s integration of sensory information.

Top-Down Sensation

We must also choose, organize and interpret our sensations. This is called Top-down Perception. We do this by processing information derived by our higher-level mental processes, cognition, as when we construct perceptions by drawing on our own experiences and expectations, right or wrong. We don’t only sense raw sights and sounds, tastes and smells, we also perceive. We not only hear a mix of sounds and rhythms, but an ambulance siren, a radio playing music, a dog barking outside in the distance, and an airplane overhead even farther away. Our perceptions are affected by the biology of our sensory systems, but also by our previous experiences and expectations. By translating sensations into perceptions, we create the meaning.

11 Million Bits Per Second

Perception and sensations bombard us constantly. One estimate claims that our five senses absorb 11 million bits of information every second, of which we consciously process only 40 (Wilson, 2002). Yet somehow, we make use of the remaining 10,999,960 bits.

Selective Attention

When we are focused like a flashlight beam, and we only see one interpretation at a time, it is called Selective Attention (Bradley Et al., 1976). Therefore, what we don’t see, because our attention is directed elsewhere, is referred to as Inattentional Blindness.

Plato Was Right

This constant interplay between sensation and perception causes our five senses: hearing, taste, sight, smell and touch, to detect physical energy from the environment and encode the information as neural signals in our brain, just as Plato believed. Then, aided by stored knowledge and previous experience, our brain perceives meaning in these signals. We selectively interpret and process a very limited number of data bits received by our senses and block out the others. This focused attention can result in inattentional or change and even choice blindness. 

This may be the source of the old adage “pay close attention to details.”

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

Review our Knowledge Base or the links displayed on this page for similar and related topics.