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Five Senses: Our Understanding May Be Outdated and Inaccurate

 Social Media Team   Monday, August 28, 2017   

Neuroscientists are discovering that there are more than just the five senses, as classically thought. In fact, some believe there may be over thirty physical senses.

The senses: creating our relationship to the world around us

We all interact with the world around us through our senses. Through the primary five senses, which include sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch, we take in important information about the world. The interaction with both objects and other humans (and animals) also depend on sensory intelligence in these exchanges. The senses are vital to our understanding of the world and our own place within it, and sensory information can have a profound impact on our inner peace and happiness. Unfortunately, some people have limited or impaired senses. Due to accidents, disease, dementia, and other conditions, we can lose our senses. Impairment of the senses can make life more challenging, but modern technologies may provide solutions that enhance specific senses. However, no matter how advanced the technology, the fading or complete loss of senses remains a challenge, especially for the elderly. However, as we are learning, our senses may not be as simple as we once thought.

Do we have more than thirty senses?

We have used the traditional five senses as our guide for thousands of years, but new research, as well as new ways of thinking about senses, shows that we may have as many as thirty physical senses. The sense of balance, for example, is an important sense not acknowledged in the original five. Most people know if they are leaning backward, forward, or to a side and can adjust their bodies accordingly. When the sense of balance fades, obvious safety problems can arise. When you close your eyes, you still know where your hands and feet are; this sense is called “proprioception.” The sense of quality of motion (whether you are walking slowly or running swiftly, for example), called “kinesthesia,” is also often overlooked. Exactly how many senses we have is currently a topic of neuroscientific research and debate, but one thing remains certain: the sensory apparatus is not as simple as we once thought!

A melting pot of senses

The senses are also complicated by the fact that they often blend together and influence each other. A perfect example is the taste and feel of mint. If you chew mint gum, your tongue experiences a flavor as well as a cooling sensation. Why cooling? After all, the gum is at mouth temperature, yet a cooling sensation persists. Vision and hearing can often intermingle; your sight may influence what you think you hear, and vice versa. Sight can also be influenced by your sense of balance, which provides slight adjustments to how your brain perceives your surroundings and your place in them. We are learning that the senses do not come in neat separate packages. Instead, the senses comingle, blurring the line between one and the other.

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