Sensorial Resonance

Classification is an interesting process. From Aristotle’s conceptualisation of many different senses that we apply to understand the world (beyond the traditional 5), to Darwin’s categories of flora, to Oliver Sacks’ mapping of aberrant consciousness states, taxonomies have been incredibly useful.

But not only for the reason you’d think. Apparently “misinformation” abounds in the modern era, but without clear taxonomies or ‘base-level’ information to begin with, how we construe beliefs, knowledge, and contents of our lived experience would be rather different! An extremist view is that all information is skewed in some manner or form. For instance take the example of looking at an x-ray. To an untrained eye you might think a particular organ or bone structure is in perfect health (or conversely, degraded), but only a medical expert will be able to literally ‘see’ components on the scan not visible to the public eye.

That’s the power of good taxonomy. Without going overboard into social constructionism woo-woo land, the psychological schema and construct always inform our perceptions with rich detail and impressions. Experimental psychologists are more likely to posit that it’s not that objective reality “out there” doesn’t exist, but rather that it is always constructed and updated in our mind, an approach best captured by Don Hoffman.

Mini-lecture on taxonomy and sensing our world:


Tools that resonate

There’s a big modern debate around Simulation/simulacra (to use Baudrillard’s word) and how ‘real’ is real. We can see experimentally for example, that the perceptual frames of people alter in extended virtual reality (VR) immersion; with some neuro-philosopher’s going as far as to claim that we live in a full-fledged stimulatory environment. The logic problem aside (of simulations generating higher-realism imagery than the upper-limits of vision), the debate has created useful opportunities in the sandbox of experimental work. Rather than asking the question “what is reality?” from a clinical framework we can posit: What possibilities are most useful for fully immersing ourselves in reality, as it presents itself to us, moment-to-moment?

One avenue is facilitating true depth of immersion in the sensory realm. Not with the materialistic view of superficiality (from make up to shiny motor vehicles), but with an aim to fully immerse in our sensory world in a present and sustained (mindful) way.

There appears a trending discipline in that sense (no pun intended), from eco-design models for productivity, to exploration of connectedness to nature, as well as immersion in visually-rich environments (from psychedelic-induced imagery to VR-simulated worlds).

A science of sensory immersion?

Aside from work on VR, techniques such as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) have produced these opportunities. Recently, one of my honours students explored cross-generational changes in sensory immersion, specifically looking at Nature Connectedness experiences (like biophilia) in contrast to ASMR-type experiences that are much more warmly looked upon by younger generations.

Recent ASMR research published in Consciousness and Cognition available here soon:).

What makes reality more immersive in simulation like VR? A recent study with mini golf.

More research to follow…


Updates to this article?


Alex De Foe is based in Melbourne, Australia. He mostly writes academic work, but from time to time also publishes more informal articles on the topics spanning social neuroscience and embodied cognition.