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Touch and the tactile world

We, and other animals, have an array of many type of touch sensors in the skin, each beautiful, specialised micro machine for extract different aspects of information about our tactile world. The nerve fibres that relay the information from these touch sensors to the spinal cord are mostly dedicated to a single class fo sensation, one for texture, another for vibration, another for stretching, and so on. When we use tactile info to play the violin, make love, take a sip of coffee, we don't have to think about the array of various sensors in the skin. the streams of information from these sensors are blended and processed in our brains, so that by the time we have conscious access to them, they are in thew form of a unified and useful percept. Moreover touch info is subconsciously combined with inputs from vision, hearing, and proprioception (a sense of where our bodies are located in space) to give rise to rich, nuanced perception.

The skin is an interface between our internal and external worlds and is, by virtue of this topology, the locus of touch. In addition to allowing touch information in, it has to keep a lot of dangerous things out. Skin serves as a barrier to repel noxious stressors like parasites, microbes, toxins, ultraviolet radiation, etc. Its own specialised branch of the immune system comes to aid, secreting its own hormones. Our skin is big weighing on average 14 pounds, making it the largest organ in the human body.


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