Poetic sensitivities

Perceptual psychologists have long been interested in limen – the threshold at which a stimulus becomes detectable. The following limen for the different senses, expressed in everyday terms rather than in terms of physical quantities, have a certain poetry to them. I got this information via email as a scan of an (unknown to me) textbook. I reproduce them here for your enjoyment:

Approximate absolute sensitivities, expressed in everyday terms:

Vision – A candle flame seen at 30 miles on a dark, clear night
Hearing – The tick of a watch under quiet conditions at 20 feet
Taste – One teaspoon of sugar in two gallons of water
Smell – One drop of perfume diffused into the entire volume of a three-room apartment
Touch – The wing of a bee falling on your cheek from a distance of one centimeter

Exact values vary between individuals and even from moment to moment with the same individual. Source: Galanter, E. (1962). Contemporary psychophysics. Holt, Rinehart, Winston.

7 Comments

  1. Posted December 27, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Very, very interesting.

  2. Oh noes
    Posted December 28, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    AAAH! GETITOFF! GETITOFF! BEES!

  3. Posted December 28, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    30 miles for a single candle flame? That sounds excessive. Sure it’s not 3 miles?

  4. tomstafford
    Posted December 28, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Yep, 30 miles. That’s single photon acuity you’ve got in that there retina!

  5. Josh
    Posted December 29, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    30 miles? I don’t know about you guys but on a clear night I can see from several million light years away

  6. Posted January 5, 2011 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    @Josh: I’m pretty sure most of what you’re seeing at that distance is slightly higher wattage than a candle. Inverse square law FTW!

  7. Josh
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Planck’s constant FTW, how far you can see is a question of how far light can travel. Way to ruin my joke though :(


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Poetic sensitivities [...]

  2. [...] to neuroscientist Bradley Voytek, the reason we don’t utilize our full sensory potential is because we’re not paying enough attention to them — kinda makes you want to put down [...]

  3. [...] to neuroscientist Bradley Voytek, the reason we don’t utilize our full sensory potential is because we’re not paying enough attention to them — kinda makes you want to put down your [...]

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