The 8 senses
We experience the world through our senses. Examining the senses can enhance our experience by understanding the nuances of behavior, perception, and self-regulation. As we learn about the senses, we can better understand how they influence our interactions with the environment.
We define our comprehension with ‘sense'. We value common sense and condemn its absence. When we understand something, we say it makes ‘sense'. We explain our intuition as a ‘sense'. But the semantics of sense goes far beyond what we simply understand about ourselves.
If I have learned anything from my clinical experiences it is that when we find balance, a higher level of enlightenment is achieved and our baseline shifts. There is a profound and unifying sensation when we consciously recognize and integrate our perception.
Manufacturers have adapted to our sense and sensitivity with the systematic removal of irritating tags and labels from shirts. The seemingly innocent and minuscule piece of fabric sewn into the back of a shirt was a form of torture for me as a child. Of the many comforts of modern times, I am particularly grateful that my children will never know the agony of a menacing label on their clothing. We are unequivocally a stronger and more efficient species without them.
The senses you already know
In school, we learned the 5 senses; seeing, hearing, smelling, taste, and touch but those don't capture the entire essence of what the human experience is.
Consciousness is the fluctuating synthesis of the senses. We are always sensing, even if we aren't paying attention.
Attention is a process of information synthesis. The senses can support or hinder the resources we need for sustained attention and comprehension.
Too much information or too little can affect our ability to understand our experience. It is the reason we lower the volume on the radio when we are lost and trying to navigate where we are. It is why we close our eyes and tilt our heads towards the sound when we want to listen.
Focusing is a matter of reducing the amount of stimulation we are processing internally and externally.
The ‘real' 6th Sense.
Contrary to popular belief or what you may hear from a Tarot card psychic, the 6th sense is our vestibular system. Our vestibular system provides sensory input about motion and spatial orientation. This input relates to head position, balance, and equilibrium. The vestibular system is regulated by the semicircular canals of your inner ear. The fluid inside the canals is what signals the brain to process motion and stability.
Vestibular input is critical to our ability to focus, learn, eat, sleep, walk and perform the many functions of daily living. If you have ever had the pleasure of being seasick, you know exactly what happens when your vestibular system is in overdrive.
When our vestibular system is taxed, we feel dizzy, disoriented and nauseous. But when our vestibular system is in equilibrium, we can focus and stay on task. Yoga and weight lifting are activities that require equilibrium to function. You can't bench press without balance, though your YouTube video will probably go viral if you try. We can often tell a beginner by how much effort it takes to balance their movements. We develop form through balance.
As someone who tends to get motion sick, the revolution of audiobooks and podcasts has done wonders for my productivity. I can listen on the train without worrying about the tax on my vestibular system. The rapid eye movements of reading while being in motion can be quite devastating.
Be mindful of looking down too long at your phone and then moving your head quickly, this can put your vestibular system in overdrive.
The 7th sense
Proprioception is the awareness of where your muscles and joints are in space. This sense allows you to sequence familiar and unfamiliar motor movements by knowing where your body and its different parts (e.g. limbs and digits) are in relation to each other.
Close your eyes and touch your nose. When your eyes are closed and you extend your hand out, you know where your hand is, if your hand is open or in a fist and if the palm is facing up or down. Knowing where the steps are when walking down the stairs at night, downward dog, proper deadlift form and attempting to dance the tango are all about proprioception. Sobriety tests are really just tests of proprioception.
If you read my chewing article, you understand that our tongue, jaw, and teeth manipulate food without consciously thinking about it. Proprioception allows us to place and sequence the movements of the muscles of the tongue and the jaw.
Tongue proprioception is a universe in itself. We will explore that another time.
The 8th sense
Spellcheck doesn't even recognize this esoteric sense. Interoception is the sense of your internal state or organ awareness. The perceived sensation of temperature, pain, nausea, hunger, thirst, physical anxiety or frustration, is the result of interoception.
Interoception is what keeps us internally in check. Pain thresholds, feeling full, overheating and feeling cold are all matters of interoception. Anyone who has practiced fasting knows what happens to hunger when it is manipulated. We often misunderstand hunger for thirst because we don't drink enough water. We know this is true when we drink enough water and it satiates our stomach, at least for the time being.
Interoception, like all the senses, is a survival mechanism. The potential for heat stroke and dehydration exists, even if the body isn't registering or in some cases, actively neglecting the impending threat. I am not referring to mindset, I am making the point that this sense indicates the physiological mechanisms that your body uses to relay signals to create actions.
Cold showers are one thing, but if you are sitting in a room without heat and its 46 degrees, you are going to have a hard time focusing on the speaker instead of your shivering body demanding that you seek warmth immediately.
Emotional states have a strong interoceptive component to them. When we are devastated by something, we often refer to ‘being sick to our stomachs'. We often describe the "tension in the air" when really; we sense it inside our bodies, in our "guts". We know we are in love when we have "butterflies in our stomach". The visceral essence of feelings is the interoceptive component.
I recently had the experience of listening to my old friend tell me about some disturbing news. After he told the story, we parked and walked around the city. We found a restaurant and got seated for dinner. I had to use the bathroom. On the way, I began to feel my heart pounding and my stomach churn. I examined the feeling and realized it was the result of his horrific story. I withhold the details of the story not for confidentiality but to exhibit the physiological effect that information has.
What do the 8 senses mean for you
We experience the world through the constant synthesis of thoughts, images, and senses. If mediation is the practice of being present, we now understand that the senses are the language the body and mind use to communicate with us about our internal state and how we are reacting to our environment.
But you don't need to practice meditation to find value in understanding the new senses we just learned about.
Finding balance with the senses.
We perform certain tasks specifically to spite our senses. We would never make progress at the gym if we stopped when our body told us to. Fasting would be a joke if we ate whenever the body said it was hungry. We would never know the benefits of a cold shower if we listened to our bodies. It is important to understand when we are acting despite our senses and when we need to use them as a tool for guidance and clarity.
I often consider how my senses respond to people, information and art. It's not so much "what does this mean" but rather, "how does this make me feel?" I often have the same response to pop music as I do a bite into rotten fruit. Physiologically, it is the same feeling of aversion, though I would prefer a rotten plum over whatever they play at the gym. This is why hanging out with loud obnoxious people literally makes your head spin. They assault us with awfulness and our senses inform us in various ways when someone or something has become the bulky tags on the shirt of your soul.
The feelings I get from listening to 46&2 is often the same feeling of being in a state of deep flow. This is where the senses become a guide. This is when our senses enhance our perception, they beckon us to embrace the essence of our experience.
Art in its most profound form is a sensory experience. A deep conversation is a sensory experience. It is not the mere exchange of words, but the feelings of those words, the feeling of connection, the feeling of inspiration all these feelings combine and explode in a sensory supernova. These experiences don't simply extinguish, they live in our memories and we sense them through our recollection.
The purpose of this piece was to make you aware of the different senses that contribute to our experience of the world. The vestibular system relates to our balance and equilibrium and how we process being stationary or in motion. Proprioception is our muscle and joint awareness in space. Interoception is the visceral sense of our inner states, such as temperature, hunger, thirst, and heart rate.
Original 5 Sense – Vision, Hearing, Taste, Smell, Touch
6 Vestibular – balance and motion (equilibrium)
7 Proprioception – body awareness (joints and limbs) in space
8 Interoception – inner state/ visceral awareness
You now have a new understanding of what mechanisms are at work when we are going about the involuntary and voluntary daily actions of our lives.
As we continue this journey, I will be referring to these senses so that we can clearly understand and adapt our behavior. You will see how these contribute to our capacity to learn and our ability to breathe, chew and sleep better.