Make Sense?

At UC San Diego, a school with a STEM- saturated student body, our education relies on the certainty of scientific facts. Logic and objectivity pervade our minds, keeping us attached to the factual knowledge we have acquired over the years.

However, what if some of the information that we so strongly believe to be true is “in-fact” incorrect?

What about ourselves do we consider to be fact? We generally have two arms, two legs, one heart, one liver, one nose, five senses. Right?

The “Main” Senses

Senses determine how we perceive, process, and respond to the world around us. Most people are taught from a young age that we have just five senses: taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound. All of these characteristics are familiar to us and are utilized frequently. However, this oversimplified version of the human body’s remarkable abilities does not do it justice.

In reality, there is strong evidence that supports the existence of between 22 and 33 human senses! These senses, beyond the main five that we all know, are seldom discussed.

What Other Senses Do We Have?

There are a wide range of senses on this list, but these are perhaps a few of the more discreet and unexpected aspects of ourselves:

Nociception: a blessing and a curse. The ability to detect pain.

We have specific receptors called nociceptors throughout our body which are stimulated by pain. If we sustain tissue damage, for example, the nociceptors initiate a series of messages that notify our brain of the unpleasant sensation. As much as we would love to avoid feeling pain, it is a necessary part of staying safe and healthy, as we must react appropriately when our bodies sustain damage or detect danger. In rare cases, some humans have conditions causing them to lack nociception. These individuals are likely to become hurt without noticing, threatening their safety. So the next time you feel the pain from stubbing your toe or getting a papercut, take a moment to thank your nociceptors for the informative message!

When pain stimulates the nociceptors, they send a message to the brain to notify us of the input. Within milliseconds we are aware of the stimulus. This can be thought of as a sort of instant messaging within the body (thankfully sending this type of message does not rely upon the campus WiFi). (Source)

Chronoception: Scientists argue that this puzzling sense is the ability to detect the passing of time. More specifically, we can sense periods between events, the order of events as they occur, and simultaneity. Complexities may arise when we psychologically perceive that certain events last longer than others even though they technically occupy the same duration of time (like how 8 A.M. lectures feel like an eternity packed into 50 minutes).

Equilibrioception: the sense of balance. This intricate sensory system, which originates in our inner ear and its fluid, helps us walk, stand, and go about our daily lives without toppling over!

The Rest?: The senses that remain on our long list include many subcategories of some of the aforementioned senses, as well as internal and involuntary senses that regulate homeostasis. Hunger, temperature, the spatial positions of our own limbs, and much more. The body detects inputs with a scope much broader than the obvious.

Many of our senses are actually sub-categories. For example, taste can be broken up into the various types of flavors we can detect. Our tongues have receptors for sweet, salty, sour, and bitter tastes. We can also taste umami, a savory, meaty flavor. Since scientists debate how each sense should be divided or categorized, the exact number of senses we have is yet to be determined. (Source)

Making Sense of it All

According to the New York Times, our senses are not cookie cutter abilities that are equally dispersed among individuals. Our senses can actually be trained to reach higher potentials, forming a spectrum of sensational abilities. This explains why the deaf have heightened visual senses, and why gymnasts have seemingly superhuman balancing capabilities.

Olympic gymnasts exhibit equilibrioception at its finest. By training to improve their sense of balance, they attain enhanced abilities that the average individual would be incapable of. The small structures within Shawn Johnson’s ear are what allow her to stay steady on the beam, although it may deceivingly appear that her musculoskeletal system is doing all of the work! (Source)

With up to 33 senses, our bodies do a great deal of processing and responding to stimuli without us even being aware that it is happening. At all times, we are subconsciously utilizing these senses to live normal lives and *make sense* of our environments.


Sources:

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/01/humans-have-more-than-5-senses/

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141118-how-many-senses-do-you-have

https://www.medicaldaily.com/human-body-possess-more-five-senses-heres-3-you-didnt-know-you-had-398887

https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/nociceptor

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2964977/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/equilibrioception.htm

http://www.exactlywhatistime.com/psychology-of-time/time-perception/