We are all familiar with our five main senses; the senses of touch, smell, sight, taste and hearing. These are the five traditionally recognised senses, but do our senses stop there? Did you know that there are many, many more senses you may not have known about? One of these include the sense of pain. Surprisingly, pain is not a subcategory of touch; it is recognised as a sense itself (all be clear by the end of this article). In addition, did you know you can actually teach yourself to develop a completely new sense? Let’s discuss.
The Human Brain
The human brain is incredible. It is composed of about 86 billion neurons, which are all connected to each other by trillions of synapses. It plays a key role in controlling and regulating every part of your body, including your senses . When we say ‘sense’, what do we mean?
What makes a ‘sense’?
Before we talk about what makes a sense, we need to be familiar with the definition of a sense. A sense is the ability to respond in a specific way due to an external stimulus; i.e. if light was the external stimulus, your brain would respond by converting it to an image that you can conceptually make sense of . Heat, balance, itch, thirst and hunger are more senses to name a few. Let’s take pain as an example; all around your body you have pain receptors called nociceptors. These receptors make you feel pain provided the external stimulus triggers them enough to inflict it. To summarise; an external stimulus that allows you to respond in a specific way, is a sense. Now that we know what a sense is and that we have more than just five, we can now talk about how we can develop ourselves a new sense.
Developing a new sense
One of the most special properties of the Brain is that it is always changing. This plasticity means we are constantly learning and changing as people. Utilizing this plasticity can allow us to do anything, within reason, including developing a new sense that naturally cannot be had.
Example 1: Echolocation
Echolocation in animals, such as bats, is a biological sensor that is used to create a perceptual image of the surroundings without the need of vision, i.e. in the dark . A combination of a voice and the echoes produced by this voice can be used to map what’s around, as well as how close objects are. A blind man named Daniel Kish has taught himself to see using echolocation. He makes clicking noises which bounce off objects around him and back into his ear. These echoes are then processed by his brain to produce an image. What he has done here, is he has physically rewired his visual cortex in his brain, allowing his visual centres to fire when he clicks. In other words, he has learnt to see without using his eyeballs. If you find this all hard to believe, here is a video of him making his way downtown, on a bike!
Example 2: Mind Controlled Bionic Limb
If one is unfortunate enough to be born with a missing limb, or to have one amputated; a bionic limb is a great solution. At the end of this missing limb, there are fully functional nerves present within. What a bionic arm does is incredible; it adopts these nerve endings and re-routes them as if there were a full limb there in the first place. When done correctly, movement of the limb, with the power of thought, allows the brain to acclimatise, allowing it to begin to develop a new sense of touch. This very short documentary is an incredible example of a woman that uses her brain to adapt to a new sense of touch using a bionic arm. I strongly recommend you watch it!
Example 3: The Sensor Suit
This example, I believe, is the most interesting of the three. By wearing a specifically programmed suit, called a sensor suit, the brain can learn to sense some quite bizarre stimuli. A personalised sensor suit can use ultrasonic pulses to detect a stimulus from 50 metres away and react by applying pressure, or vibration, to a certain part of your body. Pressure or vibration applied to different parts of your bodies with different intensities would indicate different locations and distances so that you know where this stimulus is coming from. What could this stimulus be? Well, as crazy as it may sound, it could be programmed to detect open Wi-Fi networks. You could be walking down the road and simply know if there are any accessible open Wi-Fi networks around, just from intuition. Wear this suit enough and your brain may adapt to this new sense even without the suit! There is a real example of this suit called the SpiderSense suit . To summarise, you wear this suit during the night, for example, and again, it uses ultrasonic pulses to detect motion. If motion is present, the suit reacts, resulting in you feeling a reaction. Essentially, this suit detects danger, literally giving you Spidey-senses.
The conclusion that can be drawn from all this, is that the brain is a true work of art. Due to its great complexity and its fluid plasticity, there are barely any restrictions on what it can do. I mean, if done correctly, you can use your brain to detect stimuli of any nature, to eventually form a new sense. How amazing is that?
If you have any questions, leave them below and until next time, take care.
Please note; no copyright infringement is intended. All images used have been labelled for re-use on Google Images. If any artist or designer has any issues with any of the content used in this article, please don’t hesitate to contact me to correct the issue.