I'm looking at this video: Neil Burgess: How your brain tells you where you are, which discusses neurons within the brain that help people remember where stuff is in relation to other objects.

I'm interested if there are similar kinds of neurons or areas of the brain that are specifically involved in recognizing heights. For example, I can be looking at a flat suface across horizontal distance and I feel fine (for example looking at a distant building). But if I'm looking at another flat surface, of the same distance, but straight down, I may feel uneasy. This feeling of unease tells me that an additional mechanism may be involved in perceiving heights.

The question is - what part of the brain can differentiate horizontal distance from vertical drop?

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    $\begingroup$ I'd speculate that this is the kind of higher order context processing that we know little about. I don't think we particularly process distance different, but that we know that gravity and distance together can hurt/kill us. We can predict the outcome and it scares us. $\endgroup$ – Keegan Keplinger Feb 7 '13 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ Neuroscience is not my field, but I would imagine that it would be a combination of the visual cortex for both eyes and whatever deals with information from the middle ear? $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Mar 20 '18 at 18:55

The answer that I recently discovered is that humans have a number of mental adaptations to environmental challenges, as described by Evolutionary Psychology.

For example, This TED talk on beauty describes how most "beautiful" landscape paintings share common traits, like looking down a valley with wildlife, a water source AND gravitational advantage (as if looking down from a tree).

The explanation given is that gravitational advantage (being higher) helps evade predators and spot them as they approach.

From looking at these adaptations, it appears that there's neural circuits in the human brain which can recognize height and prefer it in some amount (as in sitting in a tree), but feel aversion towards it in greater amounts (staring down a cliff).

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome back! This question has been in my hot list for ages, as I think it's a fantastic post. And I'll still keep on pondering about it in the back of my mind as I think there's more to it :) +1 $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 27 '18 at 14:21

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