The individual cells responsible for responding to sensory inputs–the strong scent of a flower, the light touch of a spring breeze–can cope with only a small amount of input. Yet the human ear can hear and process sounds ranging from a pin drop to the roar of a jet engine. Scientists have struggled to account for how this individually narrow range combines in a network to produce the wide range of sensed experience. Now physicists have shown how the mathematical models that describe phase transitions in physical systems might also explain our capacity to hear, see, smell, taste and touch.
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