You can use any or all of the resources linked below with attribution when appropriate
Web Resources on Sense Perception
Handouts and Activities
This can be some of the most fun you can have with TOK because the various activities you can do are really engaging. You can find a lot of different videos that don’t need to be adapted by clicking on the web resources at the top.
To introduce the concept of sense perception I ask students some open ended questions to tap into what they know and then move on to watching a section of a pretty fascinating documentary on senses.
A really great and entertaining introduction to the idea of sense perception comes from the TV show Brain Games. The first episode of the series includes a lot of demonstrations and discussions about the fundamental concepts of sense perception and how they help us acquire knowledge. You can download that first episode here:
Part of an interesting video series, Do You See What I See. The first part of this link shows an African tribe, the Himba, whose language and environment differ so much from ours that they are able to distinguish different shades very differently from us. The link below is for the part that shows the Himba tribe. At the bottom of the video player are links for the rest of that show.
Here is an New York Times article about the same issue.
The issues raised here offer lots to discuss about the nature of our senses.
Nature of Sense Perception
This is a worksheet I have students work through to further explore the concept of sense perception
The final activity requires students to listen to famous music that allegedly has a message when played backward. This video does a great job explaining the cognitive biases at work and how suggestible our senses are.
A related article is one about Taylor Swift’s misheard lyric about “Starbucks Lovers”
Pencil tapping activity
This is a fun activity I do early in the year, often related to concepts of knowing, the knower, personal and shared knowledge.
I have a student come to the front, show only them the name of a simple, popular song, and ask them to tap it for the class. Students listen and try to guess what the song is. As a final piece, I ask each student who taps to predict what percentage of students will have known what they were tapping. Inevitably, students over estimate. They hear the songs in their head but students in the audience only hear pencil tapping.
Some songs you can use could be: Happy birthday, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Row Row Row Your Boat, The National Anthem.
Freakonomics Podcast on the same topic
One of the concepts discussed in a handout above is the fact that our senses are human. While this does not sound earth shattering it’s a consequential idea to ponder. Our senses evolved in a way as to be useful to our humanness. Other animals and living beings evolved differently and either have senses more or less acute or have different senses all together. All of this I use to remind students there is the world outside of our minds and the reality we experience in our minds. Outside our minds is boundless “information” and we can perceive some of it and not others. We can develop instruments and other ways to translate information we cannot perceive to information we can (compasses to detect magnetism for example). Two images I have students look at to consider these ideas are here.
One final question I like to ask kids is: Considering the fact that other creatures perceive different things in the environment, to what degree can we know the “true nature” of our outside environment?
Blind man who uses echolocation to help him “see”
This is an amazing story about a man who “sees” the way bats do. Once again, this story helps us understand the concept that all we are trying to do is acquire information about the outside world. When we “see” we gain information about the space and objects around us. Interpreting sound can accomplish the same task but through different means.
Similarly, here is a story of a girl who uses her tongue and an innovative device to “see”.
Suggestibility of our Senses
Students really enjoy this lesson. We start with a video of people in a fancy restaurant tasting what they believe are exotic drinking water but each sample actually comes from a hose in the back.
This is the article that follows.
Here are some more resources on related issues.
I don’t have any set handouts but a bunch of bookmarks that I have used over time. These can be a lot of fun but ultimately have to get back to the question about what all of this tells us about our senses.
Related to the above topic is a show you can find on Netflix called, Brain Games. In a pinch (or before a break), I will show kids an episode or two of this show. Don’t judge.
https://www.netflix.com/title/80029103 (only the most recent seasons are available on Netflix, for earlier seasons you can find them available for free on Archive.org
You can download my collection of Brain Games Episodes here
There are a host of topics to explore in regards to sense perception. Ultimately, we want to connect SP with areas of knowledge and other interesting RLS. Here are a few ideas.
The Fallen of World War II
The post below is less than 20 minutes to watch but does an amazing job making “real” the devastation and death from WWII that does is not as “knowable” or that you experience differently if you just see numbers on a page. It raises interesting questions about the power of different WOK.
A few years ago, as tens of thousands of people fled the Middle East and North Africa, there were frequent stories in the news about hundreds of migrants dying when boats capsized in the Mediterranean. Most of that fell on deaf ears but when a particular image of a dead child washing up on a beach made international news, it felt, at least for a moment, that people were finally paying attention in a different way. Why is it that seeing an image affects us differently than learning through reading? I wrote up some ideas here and included various resources related to it.
Something similar happened in the US recently along the southern border but I don’t believe any of us were under any illusions this time about anything being any different.
Much of the controversy around police action in the US often boils down to the way police officers interpret what they see and what other, non officers interpret even from the same video footage. Indeed, the use of body cams has not reduced the issues we have seen. There are a few good resources around this.
This American Life did a great two part episode titled, “Cops See it Differently”
And this from the New York Times, asking people to interpret what they see.
Radiolab Podcast: Colors
This is probably my favorite all time Radiolab episode.
“Our world is saturated in color, from soft hues to violent stains. How does something so intangible pack such a visceral punch? This hour, in the name of science and poetry, Jad and Robert tear the rainbow to pieces.
To what extent is color a physical thing in the physical world, and to what extent is it created in our minds? We start with Sir Isaac Newton, who was so eager to solve this very mystery, he stuck a knife in his eye to pinpoint the answer. Then, we meet a sea creature that sees a rainbow way beyond anything humans can experience, and we track down a woman who we’re pretty sure can see thousands (maybe even millions) more colors than the rest of us. And we end with an age-old question, that, it turns out, never even occurred to most humans until very recently: why is the sky blue?”