Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Sixth Sense

I don't know why "the sixth sense" refers to something paranormal, since there are a lot more than five normal senses.

I think the problem is that whoever started out numbering these things somehow confused the senses with the sense organs. There are five sense organs that I'm aware of: the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, and the skin. And there are five corresponding senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

But there are a lot of senses that don't have a corresponding sense organ, or at least not always a very obvious one. And I'm not talking about subjective or non-quantifiable senses like a sense of humor or a sense of style or a sense of obligation or a sense of self-worth or a sense of right and wrong -- I'm talking about senses that detect measurable physical phenomena.

For example, you probably have a sense of temperature, which allows you to tell when it's hot or cold outside. The skin is the sense organ here -- it does double duty as the organ for both the sense of touch and the sense of temperature. But despite the organ in common, those are two very distinct senses, so it's not clear why the sense of temperature never made it on the list.

You've also got a sense of size. You can tell if one thing is bigger than another. This sense doesn't have a sense organ as such, but it relies on some of the other senses that do, like vision or touch, since you can tell the size of something by looking at it or by holding it.

You also have a sense of weight, of course. You can tell if something is going to be heavy or not by looking at it or by trying to pick it up.

You also have a sense of quantity or amount. You can look at two glasses and tell which one has more fruit juice in it, for example, or you can look at two bookcases and tell which one has more books on it. This relies on your sense of vision, or your sense of weight, but it's distinct from either of those senses.

Okay, what else? Well, how about your sense of speed? This one isn't very well-developed, since we can't tell how fast we're going when we're flying in a jet, for example, but still, most of us have a pretty good idea if we're going fast or slow.

And then, of course, there's the sense of time. It can be fooled as well -- when you're bored, time seems to pass much more slowly than it does when you're having a good time -- but you can still probably tell the difference between a minute and an hour, no matter how bored you get. And the interesting thing about the sense of time is that as far as I know, it doesn't rely on any other senses or any sense organs, which technically qualifies it as an extra-sensory perception.

So, here's our new list: vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, temperature, size, weight, amount, speed, and temperature. That brings the count up to eleven, and there are probably some that I missed. So what we commonly refer to as "the sixth sense" and which we somewhat confusingly label as "extra-sensory perception" would more accurately be called "the twelfth sense."

But even that's not a very good idea, because if we're going to include paranormal senses on the list, we should probably include things like sense of humor as well. But maybe there shouldn't even be a list. Or maybe we should have three lists: one for the physical senses, one for the subjective senses, and one for the paranormal senses. I don't know what the best thing to do is, but fortunately, it's not very important. That's another sense, by the way -- the sense of importance. You can add it to the list of subjective senses if you want.