Is there an equivalent of proprioception for objects? What is it called?
December 5, 2012 1:34 PM   Subscribe

The brain is really good at keeping track of body position, limbs, etc., even when it's not looking at them. Is there a term that describes the equivalent ability as it relates to objects? E.g., I'm sitting at my desk right now and I know there's a plant behind me. I want a term for that ability! So far all I've got is "object propriception"
posted by gribbly to Science & Nature (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Spatial awareness?
posted by pravit at 1:37 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would say spatial awareness as well.
posted by procrastination at 1:39 PM on December 5, 2012


"Object permanence" is certainly related, but maybe not quite what you're after.
posted by madmethods at 1:40 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Object permanence?
posted by muddgirl at 1:41 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Uh, isn't this just "memory"? I know there is a plant behind me because I saw it earlier and remember that it is there.
posted by modernnomad at 1:41 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Scott McCloud definitely covers this in his Understanding Comics book, but I can't remember what he referred to it as
posted by MangyCarface at 1:43 PM on December 5, 2012


Spatial memory.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:43 PM on December 5, 2012


I think spatial awareness might be a broader term than what you are looking for. I don't know what the correct term is, or if it even exists, but it sounds more like what I would describe as being aware of your surroundings (since you seem to be emphasizing, for example, that SOMETHING is behind you rather than that particular thing is BEHIND you and not, say, in front of you).
posted by Dansaman at 1:47 PM on December 5, 2012


How about exteroception?
posted by homelystar at 1:48 PM on December 5, 2012


Spatial Intelligence is a broader term. Wayne Gretzky is famous for his. "...he could see the whole evolving situation – everything that was happening on the ice and the movement of every player – in his mind. ... He built a predictive model of hockey in his head, so that as a game unfolded he could use memories of past games and tactics, and a reading of the immediate situation, to predict what would happen next. ... “He reads where other people are going to be,” said Grant Fuhr, who played with Gretzky on the Oilers. “People don’t even think of a play, because they don’t think that play is possible. And Gretzky makes that play. He’ll pass to a place, not a player. Somebody’ll be heading to a place, and Wayne knows they can score from that spot, and that’s where (the puck) goes.”
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:50 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


kinesthesia
posted by xingcat at 1:56 PM on December 5, 2012


You don't know that there is a plant behind you. Rather, you suspect that a plant is there because one was there the last time you looked and you don't think anything has acted on the plant to change that condition. If people "knew" what was behind them, there would be no sneaking up on anyone.

Proprioception is the brain knowing where in space the body is. This is the sense that allows you to swat at a mosquito on your arm without looking, for example. Some people have disorders of this condition to some extent or another, manifesting itself in ways such as they think they are being followed.

For the outside world, the word is exteroception, but that describes the perception of outside stimuli such as hearing a sound or feeling a texture. In the case of the plant behind you, you have not sensed anything but rather, are describing the lack of sensing any changes to the plant's position when you last sensed the plant.

"Spatial intelligence" is part of Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, which has very little mainstream acceptance in comparison to the dominant general intelligence factor. Gardner himself admits that there is very little evidence for his theory. A better term would be "visuospatial ability", which is the ability to perceive spatial relationships.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:59 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wikipedia calls it the Kinesthetic Sense as well as Proprioception when it's for body parts, but I'm not sure they can be applied to outside objects.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:15 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


You don't know that there is a plant behind you. Rather, you suspect that a plant is there because one was there the last time you looked and you don't think anything has acted on the plant to change that condition. If people "knew" what was behind them, there would be no sneaking up on anyone.

You're talking about two different things. The OP remembers the plant, knows it hasn't moved and thus knows it's there. If it's a plant in their private office and they just sat down, then yes, they definitely know it's there. If the plant is 20 feet behind them in crowed office, then yeah they might not know for sure that the plant is still there, but it's a good guess.

Sneaking up on someone is injecting a new element into the setting, i.e. something has moved. The OP seems to be talking about stationary objects.

The real trick of all this and what I think the OP is talking about is being able to know how far away said plant is. If the OP can close their eyes, turn around and either precisely reach out and touch or precisely walk to the plant 20 feet away and touch it, then that's a particular type of spatial memory that not everyone has.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:23 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've heard of researchers using this sort of sense to test mathematical ability in pre-verbal children. Such near-infants stare longer at things that don't make sense to them. Example. Child is show a pedestal which has 1 teddy-bear on it. Pedestal is hidden with a shield, and then 1 teddy bear is added, with obvious motions, from elsewhere to a location behind the shield. The shield is lifted, and on the pedestal there are 4 teddy bears. Most children would stare for a longer period of time while they try to puzzle out the result, while if it was the expected result (2 bears), children don't stare at the result much at all. Unless tehy really want a bear!
posted by Sunburnt at 2:23 PM on December 5, 2012


I believe fighter pilots call it situational awareness.
posted by supercres at 2:56 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think I know what you're getting at - I am one of those people who in spite of knowing the plant is there, has always been there and always will be there, trips over it on a regular basis. In fact I have stepped over something in my garage, saying "I'll have to watch out for that, when, backing out, hit that same thing. I have no real sense of object permanence or spatial awareness.

Situational awareness, like supercres says, is what my friends/family call it.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:56 PM on December 5, 2012


It's called zanshin in several Japanese martial arts traditions. Usually refers to an awareness of your space and surroundings in case you need to react to them.
posted by PussKillian at 2:59 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The OP remembers the plant, knows it hasn't moved and thus knows it's there. If it's a plant in their private office and they just sat down, then yes, they definitely know it's there.

You have a much more concrete view of things than I do. "Definitely" is too strong a word. "Is pretty sure" or "would bet a decent amount of money" is something I would say.

But the point was you don’t know. Not talking about how good the odds are that the plant is still there, but about how it relates to the senses. If you turn around and look at it, or keep one hand on it, then you can say you know.
posted by bongo_x at 4:42 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


But the point was you don’t know. Not talking about how good the odds are that the plant is still there, but about how it relates to the senses. If you turn around and look at it, or keep one hand on it, then you can say you know.

You most certainly can know, by weighing all the possibilities and observations of the area. A plant isn't going to disappear into thin air.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:55 PM on December 5, 2012


The OP remembers the plant, knows it hasn't moved and thus knows it's there. If it's a plant in their private office and they just sat down, then yes, they definitely know it's there.

You most certainly can know, by weighing all the possibilities and observations of the area. A plant isn't going to disappear into thin air.


I think "know" does not mean what you think it means. It doesn't mean "I think so", "my best guess", or "the last time I looked".

Ever been the victim of, or seen someone be the victim of, the cruel stunt where a chair is pulled out from under them right before they sit? All of those people "knew" a chair would be there upon which to rest their buttocks.

You are distracted by the plant and the OP's particular hypothetical. The point is that you don't know what is behind you, although you can often have a pretty good idea. Yes, it would be pretty hard for a plant on the shelf behind my desk in my office at work to be moved because I sit facing the door. However, I can fairly easily take a piece of candy from the bowl that sits at the entrance of a secretary's cubicle because she sits with her back to the bowl. Before and after I take the last mini Snickers, she "knew" that there was one mini Snickers left, but she would be wrong.

Of course, this is obvious when considered the other way. While I am working at my desk, I would have no idea if a beetle were to walk across the shelf behind me. Absent some spider sense, I cannot know the beetle is there anymore than I can "know" the plant is there. What you are calling "know" is what most people call "remember".
posted by Tanizaki at 7:16 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another vote for object permanence. It describes perfectly your understanding that even when you can't see them, objects you experienced recently as there are still there.
posted by Miko at 7:58 PM on December 5, 2012


I like "Object Permanence", but some additional googling also yielded:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_map

...which I think nails what I was looking for.

Thanks all!
posted by gribbly at 6:28 PM on December 6, 2012


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