Ok, before you read any further, you must read this article: http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/04/virtual-whiskers-probe-sense-of-.html
I TOLD you biomechanics was cool! So, here's my commentary.
We humans may not whisk (except for my dad, who like the rat has poor eyesight in the dark and has adapted by growing extra long eyebrows to help him gauge the size of the furniture in a room...) but we do have a very similar system in our body. It's called the proprioceptive system.
Proprioception means "one's own perception." No, it's not like your opinion or anything like that, but it is the ability for one part of your body to know where it is relative to the other parts. Unlike the rat, who is using the deformation of its whiskers to create an image of what is external (similar to a dolphin using sonar to "see" shapes in front of it as it is swimming), we use our proprioceptive system to create an image of what is internal, or inside the skin. Propriception works in the same way as the whiskers though. The deformation of the joints and muscles sends information to the receptors (proprioceptors) within the moving muscles and their joints. That information about a change in skeletal position then travels via our neurons to the brain to create an image.
For the rat, the more whiskers and the more mobile the whisker, the clearer the mental picture. Same goes for humans. The more muscle fibers you have firing and the more supple (not tight) the tissue, the better the proprioception. The tighter the muscle (what's going on with those hamstrings, eh?), the stiffer the joint.
Tight muscles and stiff joints gives your brain a low-res image of what is happening in your body. Why is this not good? Your brain uses this image to figure out how to move in the least damaging way to the tissue. If your body is using a low res image to make decisions, then some of the conclusions are erroneous. Which is different than erogenous, which I typed at first, then looked up, then replaced with the word erroneous.
I am good with science, not so hot with words 🙂
Moral of today's blog: What information is YOUR brain making decisions with? Hi or Low Res? And, how can you beef up your pixels? With alignment, of course, which means your muscles are all at the right length to optimize your mental image of yourself.
EXTRA NERDY BONUS SECTION
I'm not so sure that cats or humans can't whisk as much as they don't. There are scientists in biomechanics who are looking at what human arrector pili muscles (muscles in each hair follicle) do vs. can do in humans.
I can't wait for more information on that. Can you?