Sensory analysis is that initial, preconscious stage of perception at which primitive features (edges, temporal discontinuities, and periodicities) are picked out from the random fluctuations that characterize the physical stimulation of sensory receptors. Sensory analysis may be studied by means of signal-detection, psychometric-function, and threshold experiments, and Sensory Analysis presents a succinct, quasi-quantitative account of the phenomena revealed thereby. This account covers all five sensory modalities, emphasising the similarities between them.
A succinct account depends on identifying simple principles of wide generality, of which the most fundamental are that (a) sensory discriminations are differentially coupled to the physical stimuli and that (b) small stimuli are subject to a square-law transform which makes them less detectable than they would otherwise be. These two principles are established by comparisons between different configurations of two stimulus levels to be discriminated; they are realized within a simple physical-analogue model which affords certain low-level comparisons with neurophysiological observation. That physical-analogue model consists of a sequence of elementary operations on the stimulus constituting a stage of sensory processing. The concatenation of two or three stages in cascade accommodates an increased range of experimental phenomena, especially the detection of sinusoidal gratings.
This précis is organized in three parts: Part I surveys Sensory Analysis as economically as may be, beginning from the simplest, most fundamental ideas and working toward phenomena of increasing complexity. A rather shorter Part II reviews the most important alternative models addressed to some part or other of the phenomena surveyed. Finally, a very short Part III contributes some metatheoretic remarks on the function of a theory of sensory discrimination.