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How Many Human Senses are There?

Smelling is one of the five basic senses.
A sense of balance, or equilibrioception, is an additional sense that helps humans stay upright.
Touch is a basic human sense.
The girl's sense of taste is activates as she eats.
A vision chart is used to measure the sense of vision.
Hearing is one of the five basic senses.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Michael Anissimov
  • Revised By: Bott
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 22 April 2014
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There are between five and 21 human senses, depending on who is asked and how they define a sense, but it is generally agreed that five is the minimum. The basic five senses are touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. Some people choose to include an additional four senses to the list, which include the sense of temperature, pain, balance, and body position.

Currently, there is no concrete definition of what constitutes a sense, but in general, a sense is a means of perception that is detected by a specific sensory organ; for example, the eye is the organ that allows one to see and the ear allows one to hear. Sometimes senses are perceived concurrently with each other; for example, most people see and hear the person with whom they are speaking.

The Five Basic Senses

It is quite common for people to learn about the world by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, and hearing things around them; in this way, senses are the means of understanding new concepts and gaining knowledge. In some cases, a person may not be able to use one or more human sense, for example, when a person is blind or deaf. Usually, in such a case, a different sense will be heightened to make up for the lacking one; so if a person cannot see, he may be able to hear extremely well.

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Additional Senses

Besides the well-known five senses, many researchers also include hunger and thirst; however, this is debatable because there are no specific organs that detect hunger or thirst. Intuition is also sometimes included as a sense, which is also questioned because human thoughts do not take data directly from reality, but rather from a combination of sensory organs to which they are connected.

  • Equilibrioception: Simply known as the sense of balance, it is perceived by the position of fluids in the inner ear and can be sent off kilter if one spins around in a circle too many times. Having a sensory faculty for the perception of balance is essential for any bipedal species to stay upright while walking.

  • Proprioception: This is the perception of one's body in space or the body's position. Like equilibrioception, the data for this sensory faculty comes from within the body rather than from the environment. Proprioception is what a police officer tests when he or she pulls a driver over to the side of the road for suspicions of drunk driving.

  • Thermoception: This sense, also known as the sense of heat, was once thought to be a simple variation on the sense of touch, but it is different as heat can be sensed without actually touching an object. For example, the heat that a fire produces can be sensed without actually touching the flames. Thermoception of external heat sources is quite distinct from the sensation of internal body temperature, which uses a different apparatus.

  • Nociception: Nociception is the sensation of pain and was also previously believed to be a variation of touch. As with thermoception, it is not actually associated with the sense of touch for the same reason. Nociception has also sometimes been categorized as three senses rather than one because different receptors perceive pain on the skin, the joints and bones, and the body organs.

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Discuss this Article

anon929777
Post 17

Check your definition of senses. Don't confuse the brains interpretation of our senses as being the senses themselves.

Here's an experiment. Spin quickly with your eyes closed. Just make sure you are going to fall safely. All five of the senses (there are only five) communicate something unique about the environment around us. Each is really a very complex and highly specialized system.

Touch is feeling nerve impulses. Sight is detecting photons. Smell is detecting the chemical nature of a substance by the tiny molecules that float in the air around it. Hearing is detecting sound waves. Taste is detecting the flavor of something. The chemical make up of a substance in contact with the tongue.

The sense of heat is nothing more than the sense of touch. Even if I don't touch the item itself, my skin is feeling the physical effects of the heat on my skin. The brain identifies those feelings as heat.

I'm hungry now. I feel it physically in my stomach.

A case could be made that the brain also detects what it needs by what is missing from the blood. But, most of the time, the awareness comes from something identified with the other five senses.

anon342987
Post 16

I can tell you from a medical science perspective there are 12 senses. The dividing line is not significant for most people, hence why most "skin" senses are usually lumped together, but "touch" and "thermoreception" are in no way linked. Nocireceptors, that is pain receptors, respond to different a region in the brain than proprioceptors in the skin. Nocireceptors actually do not respond to pressure stimuli as proprioceptors do. Visceral pain, pain from say, holding your breath, is not activated by nerves but by nocireceptors firing.

Pain caused by loss of blood or oxygen is an alert signal rather than an external sensory message. Further, arguing that because two or more organs are involved negates most senses. After all, taste comes from smell. The taste buds are actually just signaling to the brain which nutrient is present (carbs, glucose, protein, etc.) Some scientists do break down the senses into more groups, sense of air pressure (which by the way is how blood pressure is monitored), electromagnetic fields, chemoreception (the glandular sense the gentleman referred to above) etc. but there is no defined set. Six main senses, 12 visceral senses, and endless debate beyond that.

anon230152
Post 12

I've been researching the senses for some time, as an amateur. The non-skin external senses are pretty straightforward: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and what scientists call vestibular sensation. (This last includes two pieces: one senses the direction of gravity, the other senses angular acceleration. Since gravity is itself a form of acceleration, I think of the whole sense as the sense of acceleration. The vestibule is the part of the inner ear that doesn't do hearing.)

So this is five mostly straightforward senses. You can increase the number if you count the visual contribution to the body's clock separately from sight, or pheromone sensing (if any) separately from smell, or if you split vestibular sensation into two, but seems to me those are cheating.

Balance is something the brain does with (mostly) sight and vestibular sensation. Proprioception is something the brain does with (mostly) the muscle senses and vestibular sensation, though it also lets the skin senses and sight pitch in if they can. I wouldn't consider either a sense in its own right.

Thermoception is, among other things, a skin sense. And this creates trouble because there's no widely accepted definition of what separates senses, so it isn't obvious how to separate the skin senses either from each other, or from the muscle and visceral senses.

For starters: There are four kinds of receptors we ordinarily understand as "touch" even by narrow definitions. Two of these are also found in the muscles, ligaments, and joints. Meanwhile, we have two very different kinds of receptor for heat and cold. One responds to heat; the other responds mostly to cold, but also to some levels of heat. (This is why cold can sometimes feel like it's burning you.) These may or may not be processed separately in the brain; and I have no idea whether, or to what extent, they feed into the somatosensory cortex, the touch map of the body, which is what I came to this page hoping to find out. So is thermoception one sense, two (separate receptors, perhaps separate brain processing), or zero (part of touch because it hits the somatosensory cortex -- if it does) ?

Don't even get me started about pain. For example, the top level of hearing according to hearing specialists is the "threshold of pain". Is this kind of pain the same as the kind we sense with our skin? With our guts? How about the pain from overly bright light?

And the fun only continues. The article blithely asserts that external thermoception works very differently from internal thermoregulation. Well, duh. But does external thermoception work differently from stomach thermoception? Yes, our stomachs sense heat and cold.

Once you get inside the body, also, things get very confused with the chemical senses. Many of our glands can sense when a particular chemical is low or high in a particular fluid. Is each of these a separate sense?

I have no idea how you get to 21 senses, but if those are all external senses, then whatever classification it is, ought to include, for example, each glandular sensor as a sense, and probably ends up somewhere in the hundreds. --Joe B.

anon84319
Post 8

What about our sense of time?

anon82533
Post 7

I've heard that the male human beings have five senses whereas female human beings have seven senses? Is it so? I'm really very confused. Please help!

anon24400
Post 3

How can we differ our senses from our thoughts or dreams?

beandlive
Post 2

What is the "order" in which the senses develop? Proprioception first? Also, touch and hearing are connected, as well as, smell and touch.

anon11426
Post 1

How are the senses connected?

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