Over this spring semester, I have been writing about the true wonder of the hands and all the amazing things that they’re capable of. As we grow steadily closer to the end of our freshman year (and toward our summer vacation!) our handy adventure is coming to a close.
As we’ve seen, our hands are capable of doing a vast array of very different tasks, from the simplest tasks of buttoning a jacket or zipping a pair of pants, to the more complex maneuvers such as sewing or pottery molding. And of course, this is all only possible thanks to our hand’s complex biology and nerve connection to the brain!
So, as I sit and I think back over my posts, I am reminded that I haven’t covered a very important topic – one that covers a bodily process that would be severely missed if it were to suddenly disappear.
Place your hand gently upon anything near you at this moment, and you’ll realize it right away, whether it comes to mind or not. It’s a process we are so used to, we seldom notice it unless it causes us pain, discomfort, or a certain sort of pleasure.
The sense of touch.
Although this sense is definitely not unique to this part of the body, a large part of the somatosensory cortex (the part of the brain that processes these sensations) is dedicated primarily to the hands and the face.
Studying and describing the sensation of touch is a hefty task, and can get very complex. But I’ll do my best to describe it simply, while still pointing to the utter majesty and phenomenality that is the human body and its hands.
Although touch is generally defined as one of the traditional 5 senses, there are actually a number of different factors involved in touching and feeling – such as pressure, temperature, etc – that can fall out of the general description of this sensation.
To put this complex process of sensation simply, different sensory nerve receptors in our hands pick up different types of touch-related information. This data is then sent along tracts within our spinal cord, and eventually reaches the parietal lobe. It is here that the somatosensory cortex processes this information, allowing us to feel.
We can also thank this cortex of the brain for sense of location, as well as sizes, shapes, and temperatures.
“This area detects and interprets information on touch, temperature, pain, and pressure, allowing us to perceive the size, shape, and texture of an object via touch. In addition, the somatosensory cortex is responsible for helping us monitor the position of our own body in space. Specific areas of the somatosensory cortex correspond to specific parts of the body. When the brain area representing the left foot is stimulated, for example, the patient will report feeling sensations in his or her left foot.”
Bearing all this information in mind, it is mind-boggling to consider how drastically different our perception of the world might be should we lack the sensation of touch. We would be unable to identify what we are contacting, almost as if our hands were made of rubber.
This concludes our little biology lesson for the week, as well as our hands on adventure. Continue loving your hands, everyone. It’s been a pleasure writing these posts for you!