Self-evident?

There are a number of things that we have heard so often that we simply take them for granted. They become absolute truths. One of these is that we have five senses. This is so “true” that we use an expression like The Sixth Sense to refer to some extraordinary sense, typically extra-sensory perception (e.g. telepathy, or in the case of the movie, the ability to see dead people.)

And then today, for some reason, I started counting my senses. Sight, that’s one. Hearing, that’s two. Touch, that’s three. Smell, that’s four. Taste, that’s five. Good so far. And then, I thought: “but my sense of balance, where does it fit? Is that touch?” And then “What about hot and cold?” That can’t be touch: I don’t need to touch something to feel that it’s hot, the radiations it emits are enough…

That got me thinking. How many senses do we really possess?

It turns out that this “truth” that there are five senses is entirely wrong. According to the Wikipedia article on senses, we have no less than 11 different senses:

The traditional five senses are sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste: a classification attributed to Aristotle. Humans also have at least six additional senses (a total of eleven including interoceptive senses) that include: nociception (pain), equilibrioception (balance), proprioception & kinesthesia (joint motion and acceleration), sense of time, thermoception (temperature differences), and in some a weak magnetoception (direction).

You may draw your own conclusion… Mine is this: some conceptions may be very widespread, and yet entirely wrong when give even a moderate amount of thought. A corollary is that our species seems to be very uncritical of what we hear, of what is asserted by some authority. It took me nearly 40 years to “discover” that we did not have five senses. Clearly, I had all the knowledge it takes to know it, or at least discover it, yet it had never materialized in my brain, for some reason. In retrospect, that makes it much easier for me to understand very negative reactions to innovation or “thinking different” I have witnessed in the past.

But here is the real question that follows from this experience: how much knowledge do we bury under conventional wisdom?

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