Writer Wednesday – Five Senses Fallacy

All our lives, we have been told we have five senses. Taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell. These five senses have been around since first proposed by Aristotle. Long ago science moved past this limited view of the senses, but somehow the rest of us never got the memo. So just how many senses are there? That depends on who you ask. Give or take, the number sits around 21.

So how in the world is that possible? Well, first off, the five senses are actually multiple senses combined. Sight is actually two senses. You’ve probably heard of rods and cones. They represent our perception of brightness and colors respectively. Touch is another that is broken down into more than one sense. We sense temperature, pressure, itching (no, I am not joking here) and pain independently as separate senses. Taste of course is broken down into five forms of taste as many have become familiar with watching any cooking show.

Scent and hearing are relatively the same as they always were, so that puts us at 13, where are the other 8? Well, avoiding lots of terminology, we have such things as our sense of balance, our sense of time and sense of body parts in relation to one another. We have a sense that lets us know our muscle tension and thus keep from crushing our cup instead of picking it up. Hunger and thirst are both senses. Our bodies can detect the dilation of our blood vessels as a unique sense and is often involved in headaches we suffer. We can sense magnetic fields and we even have a sense that lets us unconsciously monitor the hormones and drugs in our bodies.

So what has any of this got to do with writing? Simple, knowing these senses lets you better create believable stories that may relate to them. Studies have shown, for example, that people between 19 and 24 can often tell when 3 minutes is up without a watch within a 3 second margin of error. When you do the same test for someone 60 to 80, they mark 3 minutes as being 3:40 on average. This means that as we get older, time literally seems to move faster for us due to our sense of time skewing with age. Another good example is realizing that while most birds have a mechanism in their beaks to sense magnetic fields, certain birds have particles in the eyes that don’t just sense magnetic fields, but actively see them. How useful is that knowledge if you decide to create a race of beings who rely heavily on magnetic fields by nature and want to interject a bit of biology into your space opera?

The many senses aren’t the only ones either, but simply the ones humans are known to have. There might be any number of other senses beyond the human ability to detect without machines, assuming we even knew to look for those things. If you never use it in your writing, at least you know another interesting fact and if you do use it in your writing, I hope it helps take your creativity over the top.

What are your thoughts?

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