BOOMbox at Home: Human Senses

How many senses do we have? What senses do you use when you play hide-and-seek? Have you ever felt like your eyes were playing tricks on you? Read on for answers.


The centuries old game of hide-and-seek is a fun pastime for young people around the world. From South Korea to Bolivia to Spain, it’s a game of many names that calls on many of your five senses. Do you touch, see, smell, hear, or taste while you play hide-and-seek? 

Play hide-and-seek with us as we read Where’s the Elephant? Pay attention to which senses you are using and how it might be different if you were playing in real time. Then, create your very own work of art about an issue that’s important to you. If you’d prefer to get your hands on a copy of the book, check it out from the library.

Did you know that one variation of hide-and-seek game is called “Sardines”? Or that in Brazil and Russia hide-and-seek has an extra step? How about the fact that even adults play hide-and-seek competitively? Learn more about this timeless game.

Optical Illusions

Ever catch your eyes playing tricks on you? It’s more common than you think. If you’ve ever watched a cartoon or animated movie, you’ve experienced the illusion of apparent motion. When you watch a cartoon, the characters aren’t actually moving the way that the actors move in a movie. Instead, you’re seeing a series of drawings with small changes. Watch Kenturah Davis’ reading of How to Find a Fox and read on to make your very own flip-book.

If you make a flip-book, you can see that when the images move very quickly, your brain blends them together in what looks like continuous movement. But, even before we had television or computers, people were taking advantage of this trick. In the 1920s, many kids played with thaumatropes, a toy that involved spinning a two-sided image to make it blend. Learn how to make your own thaumatrope.

The illusion of apparent motion is a part of how your eyes and brain normally work together, but other illusions can occur when part of that system breaks down. Normally, your brain combines images from both eyes into a single 3D image. This gives us depth perception, which is how we judge how far away an object is. If your brain is only getting input from one eye, images may be more ambiguous. You might see the same shape two different ways at the same time. See it for yourself with this ambiguous cube project.

Trick or Sweet

Do you know how your taste buds work? Perhaps a quick tour of the tongue would help. When you return, we’re going to learn about Synsepalum Dulcificum, a plant that is normally found in West Africa. When the berry from this plant is eaten, it can cause sour things such as lemons or limes to suddenly taste sweet. Historically, this plant has been used to sweeten sour cornbread. This change in taste has to do with how the berry’s molecule binds to the tongue. Delve deeper into this tricky plant and watch a video that describes this miracle fruit.

Level Up

Looking to learn more about the senses? Here is a a collection of TED Talks about more than just the five senses. What about animals? Take a deep dive on how animal senses exceed those of humans--by a lot! And meet a bat named Peekaboo while you’re at it.

If you would prefer to consider what would happen when you merge an understanding of the senses with technology, try electric currents to trick our tongues, reality enhancing biohacks, and tools from the newly developing field of sensory enhancement.

Scientist of the Week

Hailing from a small town in Puerto Rico, Wanda Díaz-Merced grew up with her sister imagining space travel to other galaxies. Díaz-Merced pursued the sciences in middle school and studied physics at the University of Puerto Rico. As a college student, Wanda began to experience blind spots and subsequently lost her eyesight. Her commitment to the sciences paved the way to increase accessibility to STEM, and more specifically, astrophysics through the sonification of digital data. Listen to Díaz-Merced’s firsthand account of how she “found a way to hear the stars” or hear her on TED Radio Hour in an interview with Guy Raz.

"What people have been able to do, mainly visually, for hundreds of years, now I do it using sound." — Wanda Díaz-Merced

Written by Veena, Eli, and Erica.