Friday, March 7, 2008

The five (dozen) senses

in elementary school, things had numbers and the numbers stayed put. our world was made up of seven continents, five oceans, nine planets, some now-forgotten number of elements on the periodic table (but fewer than 118), and five senses.

once we learned to think metaphorically, we learned about that evasive "sixth sense," but for the most part we were happy with the five handed down to us: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

don't you think this list is impoverished? first of all, it draws too neat a distinction among the senses. you've seen gordon ramsay blindfold chefs and then scold them when they can't tell pork from chicken; it makes me want to shake him. buddy, i want to say, sight, like smell, is part of taste. eating, cooking, appreciating: it's a synaesthetic experience.

but the real problem with the mythology of the five senses is what it leaves out. if we agree that a "sense" is a physical experience that negotiates between the world as given and the world as we make meaning of it, here are some new senses that ought to make the grade.

1. sense of touch(2): put your hand on your face. what you feel with your hand -- smooth, hairy, wrinkled, sweaty -- is what's conventionally referred to as touch. but what about the sense of touch from within? what does the face feel like to be touched? how would "touch" be different if we thought as both subject and object?

2. sense of time: the real advantage here is that we could develop a polite language for people like me whose sense of time is, uh, imperfect. i'm the time-sense equivalent of blind.

3. sense of justice: yes, this is an embodied sense. think of rwanda. that ache in your stomach? sense of justice.

4. sense of balance: ever since i started getting the effexor whirlies, my sense of balance has been messed up. i think a lot about what goes into balance. you need proprioception, visual orientation, a balanced sense of hearing (not perfect, just balanced) and probably other things too.

5. sense of danger, aka intuition, gut feeling, hunch: there's as much bodily intelligence here as there is with sight or sound. we just haven't parsed it yet.

that's a start, anyway. what would you add?


Anonymous said...

Sense of Rhythm:)
The inspiration and expiration of the breath,
the contraction and relaxation of birth,
the cadence of poetry,
the love-to-hate-to-love of parenting and spousing
the rhythms of life, love and death. Delicious.


Anonymous said...

Sense of humour
without the giggles, the guffaws, the all out laughs, and those small smiles the rest of our senses would be sorely lacking.