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Why your senses feel heightened outdoors!

When outdoors, it never ceases to amaze me how my senses seemed heightened and enhanced – the coutryside seems to come alive with small mammals rustling in the undergrowth, my skin seems to be able sense slight changes in air temperature and wind, and I am suddenly aware of the rich variety of smells.

The outdoors was far from my mind today as I sat on a train on the way back from London reading ‘Seventeen Equations that Changed the World’ by Ian Stewart. I was reading the chapter about logarithms when I came upon the Weber-Fechner Law. This law states:

“The perceived sensation is proportional to the logarithm of the stimulus”

Basically our brains handle relative difference in sensation (from all senses) rather than the actual difference. Put another way our senses tune into the scale of a stimulus – whilst we need to hear quiet sounds like a mouse and loud sounds like thunder, we cannot respond in proportion to both at the same time (or our ears would explode).

So (and I am extrapolating here slightly), as we leave our over stimulated lives to head out into the great outdoors, our senses must be re-tuning to our new environment, and this is the superman-esq feeling of enhanced senses we experience.

Get outdoors and experience it!

(this is presumably the same reason a world class violinist playing one of hardest pieces of music in a Subway station was largely ignored – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/15/the-things-we-miss-a-viol_n_158188.html)

Comments

Mark
Reply

Fascinating thought! I like Mr Stewart’s books ever since I read ‘Does God Play Dice?’ back in the late eighties.
Now – here’s another poser – why did the jaffa cake bar I ate near the end of a recent walk taste sublime, way better than it had any right to? Can being outdoors heighten the response of our tastebuds too? (I’m sure you’re aware of the phenomena.)

daylight_gambler
Reply

I am completely aware of the phenomena – on a peak in Brecon Beacons a nice fellow hiker offered my a jaffa cake. It was possibly the nicest jaffa cake I have ever tasted!

There is a related phenomena relating to beer – beer after a satisfying long hike is ALWAYS much tastier and more refreshing than beer at other times!

Mark
Reply

Oh yes – especially if taken in front of a roaring fire whilst drying wet clothes, and in good company.
For my 30th (sadly a long time ago) I climbed Beinn Bhan above the Great Glen with my brother. He had a bottle of bubbly, and some cheese and biscuits tucked away in his pack. (The champagne packed in snow I seem to remember). I think maybe I can still taste it today – magic.

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