How many Senses Do We Have?
Photo by Capshore Photography
How many senses do we have? We’re generally taught there are five (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching) plus the mysterious sixth sense. But there are many more because our bodies have many sensors specialized sensors that take in information for our brains to analyze. Admittedly some senses may be very subtle. Nevertheless, when they are brought to our attention, they are immediately recognizable—and absolutely necessary in our daily life.
Scientifically we can define a sense as “any system that consists of a group of sensory cell types that respond to a specific physical phenomenon and that corresponds to a particular group of regions within the brain, where the signals are received and interpreted.” Turns out we have a lot of specialized sensors in our body!
Vision includes two kinds: color and brightness
Taste can be further divided into sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami
Touch is a very nuanced sense: there is light touch which when is something com
es lightly into contact with the skin. Then there is pressure when a firm contact compresses the skin. For example, when someone grabs your hand.
Temperature, also called thermoception, is the ability to sense heat and cold. Here again it can be divided into two senses the ability to feel 1) hot and 2) cold through two different receptors. We also have the ability to feel warm or cold internally as well as externally.
Pain, also called nociception, is divided into three different pain receptors skin (cutaneous), bones and joints (somatic) and visceral (body organs).
Balance is our ability to perceive gravity (also called equilibrioception)
Tension is our ability to monitor muscle tension
Body Awareness, also called proprioception, is the ability to know
where your body parts are. For example, you don’t need to look at your feet to walk or you fingers to type. However, if a person has drunk to much alcohol or is affected by another drug, this sense is compromised and simple tasks like walking or talking become difficult.
Thirst is the ability to know when we need something to drink.
Hunger is the ability to know when we need to eat.
Oxygen is the ability to know we need to breathe.
How many have I identified? I’m not really sure because there is some splitting, adding and lumping as we examine the different senses. On the right is a graphic that provides one way of thinking about the different ways senses can be organized.
In addition there is the mysterious sixth sense often called intuition and also something which cannot be defined by the ‘five’ senses.
As we’ve already seen there are more than five senses so it only seems reasonable that the “sixth sense” bears closer examination. Here are some possible ways of understanding different aspects of intuition.
Mirror. The ability to sense and synch with external phenomena such as harmonizing brain waves to music
or rhythms present in nature such as ocean waves or the motion of the trees.
Body radar is the ability to be drawn in some directions and avoid others.
Felt sense of presence is the sense we may have of a place or experience. What is it like to cross a stream, to linger under a big tree or to transition from a shady forest to an open field? Every place or experience a person has evokes a feeling of the full sum of what is happening that often cannot be described with words.
Subtle energy sense is the felt sense of energy of others: peoples, trees, etc. interacting with ours.
Imaginal is a way to describe the dreamlike visionary channel that allows people to communicate with nonhumans, sentient and even non-sentient beings of all kinds.
Earth Dreaming occurs when we have a strong sense of knowing of our path or that there is something we need to do. It doesn’t come from our head bur rather up from the earth into our hearts and then into our minds. When I took my forest therapy training, we would say that the earth has many dreams and sometimes we sense one that is particularly meaningful to us and act on it.
Exploring any or all of these senses is a wonderful way to slow down, come into the present and connect with the natural world.
Come to Your Senses (includes chart of senses)
Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature by M. Amos Clifford, Conari Press. 2018