We often pick up and touch a new gadget before thinking to read the instructions, and we all know the curiosity-driven urge to feel things we should not, such as in museums!
Touch is important for perception but it is also vital for action. It is through the sense of touch that we are able to use our hands in a dextrous manner; to pick up and manipulate, to fashion and mould, to shake and rattle, or indeed do just about anything and everything! If the surface of what we pick up is smooth and slippery, we will grasp harder to improve our grip with greater friction, and it is touch that provides the cue to action. If we pick up something hot, touch warns us to let go so we don’t burn ourselves. If touch is impaired, not only is our sensory experience impoverished, but we are also likely to lose our skills.
The Prototouch project delves deep into the mysteries of touch, from the transduction of environmental events into complex mechanical actions whose neurochemical consequences are electrical impulses that course along peripheral nerves to the activation of whole networks of the brain spanning local topographical maps, hierarchical organisation of the body schema, and multisensory integration with the other sensory systems.