Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Five Senses, Plus At Least One

The day of the amateur scientist is gone. Everything is professionalized, even sports! Bigger and better, everything!

So, when I start to think I have something in mind that is new, I know that can't be correct. It isn't correct, it can't be.

But anyway, I thought I'd check it out. Here's the thing: traditionally, we recognize five senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Fair enough, but this is a small and restrictive list. There is always talk about a Sixth Sense, often in sci-fi mode. It's mystical. ESP – like a ghost sense. I don't believe in that – even though I've thought from time to time that I've had something, like the time I played 20 questions and got to “German composer starting with the letter 'h'” without missing one question (it turned out to be Hindemith). But I don't believe in voices of the dead or ghosts or crap like that. Or the vague sense that he's no longer there.

It's true that other animals have senses we don't have – like radar or magnetism. We might have some of that that we're not quite conscious of. Certainly other animals perceive the world around them differently from the way we do because of their different balancing of their senses – imagine how a sense of smell orients a fish, for instance, think what their world is like. Our book club read a book that sought to explore that – what would it be like to be an otter, or a swift? (Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide by Charles Foster – my advice, do not read.) We are primarily vision and hands, and then big forebrain, I think.

But what struck me was something that we use all the time but somehow has not been described as a sense. That is this: the Sense of Time. We have it, we all know that, but somehow it may not have been described as a sense. It's kind of mysterious because it is one of those things that pops up, that isn't under our conscious control or even our conscious supervision. And time itself is always mysterious.

There is the straightforward sense of “How long has it been? It seems like it's been 20 minutes, doesn't it?” Check on your watch and it's been 19 minutes. Somewhere we have a sense of time, click click click.

It's also somehow different because it gets distorted, depending on what we're doing. If I'm on the computer writing something, time passes “quickly,” and it's time to go before I know it. So, there is some lack of precision depending on circumstances. But that variability also shows that it's there.

Then there's time at night – how do we know how long we have been asleep? Somehow, I tend to know, but I don't know how I know.

Also, what about the phenomenon of awakening just before the alarm goes off? Who hasn't that happened to? How does that work, exactly? I sure don't know, but I know it does. There is the same wonder as when something pops into our head we've been looking for, or even what we weren't looking for. Pop, pop, click, click.

So, as I say, this is not the time for us to simply appear at the Royal Academy of Science and make a short address to the learned ones in attendance and have observations and thoughts recorded in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy by the secretary, to be noted years later when the functional MRI depicts exactly where and how such calculations are made in the brain, and how they come not to be sensed directly by the executive function. If one wants to establish precedence, one can't be an amateur off the street. One needs to be established to be famous.

So, time as a sense must have been thought of before, right? Of course it has been! Of course.

So I looked it up on Google and found this: The Five Senses -- Great little discussion. Talks about some other senses that might be described, which I had thought about myself. The interoceptive senses that perceive states within the body – you feel hot. What about feeling thirsty? The author says: “Humans have other senses that they are aware of, outside of the Traditional Senses. Senses like Balance, Temperature, Kinesthetic sense, and Pain.” GREAT! No sense of time listed!

So, I'm not looking any further. I figure, it's now in the Proceedings of Budd's Blog, as of today. Forget being first to the pole, that's so passé.

Actually, to be serious, I bet that functional MRI's are going to chart a whole bunch of neuron complexes firing off, and they'll chart what set them off, and where the firing went, and get all our known senses charted, and then some we don't know about will be discovered – what was it that set that firing off? Ah-hah, it was … what? Something. And they'll trace to where the firing landed, and maybe even see unconscious adjustments made by the human being. And some will remain a mystery for a long time. They will also compare species, and see just how different we all are. The problem of the brain will go on for a long time.

What a great mystery.

Budd Shenkin

No comments:

Post a Comment