Miseducation: The Five Senses and the Other Unsung Senses

A representation of the “five” senses by Pieter Claesz, 1623

Miseducation’ is a series intended to correct falsities that are often mistaken for common knowledge. Tips provided are discouraged from being raised to maliciously correct teachers. Furthermore, OPT does not condone acts of know-it-allism.

One of the most fundamental lessons we learn about biology is that humans are equipped with five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. However, this cataloguing of capability is woefully outdated, as it originated with Aristotle. Simply defined, a sense is a physiological capacity of an organism that provides data for perception. While Aristotle’s five get all the glory, they don’t cover the full spectrum of human sensation. While the scientific community is in disagreement on the exact number, the total number could be upwards of 20 senses.

Some scientists believe that the basic five are overbroad and should be classified in greater detail. For instance, sight could be subdivided into the perceptions of brightness, color, and depth. Opposing minds claim this is needlessly complicated, resulting in a variation on the total count of senses. But even keeping the original five senses intact, there is still so much more that humans are capable of.

One of many overlooked senses is balance, or equilibrioception. Through a combination of body systems working in tandem, equilibrioception accounts for our abilities to stand, be graceful, and to recognize our own acceleration. Nociception, the ability to recognize pain, was once viewed only as an extension of touch. Pain has been proven to be its own distinct sensation, signaling imminent danger. Maybe the most important sense of them all is that by which brain receptors monitor carbon dioxide levels in the blood to alert us of when we need oxygen.

In addition to the complex and life-saving senses, humans also harbor less glorified ones. Chronoception is the ability to process the passage of time. Chronoception can often be misleading, though, which is why an unengaing two-hour lecture can seem like weeks but a two-hour exam can flash right before your ophthalmoception, or eyesight. Other crucial yet unglamorous senses include the kinesthetic sense for awareness of one’s own position and movement, the recognition of certain bodily functions such as hunger and fullness of the stomach, and thermoception to recognize heat and cold.

The five senses are symbolic of a common scholastic obstacle. Sometimes, we pigeonhole ourselves into limited abilities, usually because somebody instilled boundaries on our perceived potential. But often, we are surpised to find ourselves more capable than we previously thought. Although he was wrong about the five senses, Aristotle teaches us something valuable: Human potential is not to be underestimated.

Extra Sensory Perceptions – Jessica Cerretani – Harvard Medicine

How many senses does a human being have? – Discovery Health – How Stuff Works

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