How Many Senses Do Humans Have? Are there More Than Five Senses?
Humans have more than 5 senses; we have 5 traditional senses, but over 20 senses in total with non-traditional senses counted. Other organisms have a variety of senses too. We cover all the known human senses, the unknown potential human senses, and the animal, plant, insect, bacteria, etc. senses below.
There is No Exact Count of Senses, But it Isn’t Wrong to Say 5 Traditional and Over 20 Including Non-Traditional Senses
There is no exact count as to the number of senses because of differing definitions of what constitutes a sense, and the need for further studies.
In general, we can think of the senses as our ability to get and process sensory information from any external or internal source. By this metric we have listed over 20 human senses below.
More technical definition of a sense: The ability to perceive electromagnetic and chemical information from either an external or an internal source (AKA our capacity to sense mass-energy and process that information).
The Human Senses Overview
The human senses include our five primary senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, and our related senses of proprioception, which includes spatial orientation and movement, temperature, vibration, pain, time, and hunger. There are also many senses related to internal organs, including senses related to detecting pressure and chemical balances, and other currently largely unexplored senses, such as the ability to detect electric fields as sharks and birds can.Busting The Myth Of “The 5 Human Senses”.
TIP: This page is meant as a simple, but complete, overview of the different types of senses. We used the Wikipedia page on Sense as a basic guide, see that page for detailed descriptions.
MYTHS: There is no proven “sixth sense” (consisting of some type of psychic ability), we have many senses, but all of them relate to physics and none to mystical powers (as far as we know).
What are Senses?
Sense is just what it sounds like, a “sensor” of external or internal stimulus. Senses are our way of perceiving the world around us; our senses bring us information about our environment. They give us our ability to use nerve receptors glean input from our environment and process that information using neural networks to understand the world.
We process sensory information as electrical or chemical signals using our nervous system, and then store and process this information in our neurons, which connect through synapses, i.e. “neural networks.”
The mechanisms of sensation work a little differently in plants and celled organisms which sense directly with their cells. Our nervous system contains cells like neurons that respond to electrical stimuli.
The sensory information we get helps us to understand the world around us and shapes our world view (learning and memory). We don’t sense in images like a camera. Rather our brain constructs useful composite images and ideas based on the sensory information that we get from our external and internal environment.
TIP: Sensory memory processing is closely related to bias, reflexes, and other vital nerve and memory related phenomena, but it isn’t the same thing.
TIP: As mentioned above, there is no precise definition of what constitutes a sense. In simple terms, our five major outward senses have long been considered “the five senses” or “five wits,” only recently have we recognized additional senses. We can now describe these other senses.
Basic Types of Senses
We can divide senses into two basic types: External (Exteroceptive) and Internal (Interoceptive).
- External (exteroceptive senses) are senses that perceive the body’s position, motion, and state (proprioceptive senses). These are senses related to your perception of the world around you.
- Internal (interoceptive senses) are senses that perceive sensations in internal organs. These are senses related to your ability to sense what is going on in your body.
The 5 Traditional Senses
We are all familiar with the five traditional human senses, each of these external senses uses one or more organ, neurons, and different parts of the brain to process sensory input.
The traditional senses are:
- Sight (ophthalmoception) is the ability to perceive and process optical data from light and is related to visual memory.
- Hearing (audioception) is a capacity to recognize auditory data from vibrations and is related to audial memory.
- Taste (gustaoception) is the ability to perceive and process sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami of molecules to detect minerals, vitamins, and poisons. It works hand-in-hand with sight, smell, and touch to make judgments about the food we eat. Taste is one of two “chemical senses”.
- Smell (olfacoception) is the ability to perceive and process information from molecules in the air as a smell. Smell is a chemical sense like taste and uses hundreds of olfactory receptors to differentiate between smells.
- Touch (tactioception) is the ability to perceive and process pressure-related information. The molecular makeup of atoms causes electrons to be structured themselves to give rise to different sensations from friction. We can also feel things like itching and other “touch senses” although pain is a separate sense.
The Non-Traditional Senses
The known non-traditional human senses also use specific neurons, organs, and parts of the brain, except for the perception of time, which doesn’t rely on one particular organ. Most of these senses are also external senses.
The non-traditional senses include, but aren’t expressly limited to:
- Balance and Acceleration (equilibrioception) is the ability to sense and process movement related to direction, balance, and acceleration, including angular and linear momentum, gravity and changes in speed.
- Vibration (mechanoreceptor) is the ability to sense mechanical pressure and changes in pressure.
- Temperature (thermoception) is the capacity to sense and process temperature (internal and external).
- Kinesthetic sense (proprioception) is the ability to detect and handle movement relative to the rest of the body. For instance, it enables you to know your hand’s position relative to your trunk.
- Pain (Nociception) is the ability to feel and process physiological pain in the skin, joints, bones, and organs. Pain helps shape our critical biases like, “don’t touch fire, fire hurts”.
- Time (Chronoception) is the ability to sense and process the passage of time. The sense of time is not related to any known organ. Instead, it is a highly distributed system using different parts of the brain and varies widely from one individual to another.
Other Human Internal Senses
Less noticeable, internal senses include but aren’t limited to (source):
TIP: I gave each one a simple non-scientific name for easy reading.
- Hunger sensor is a motivational state seen in all beings. In the past, it was sometimes seen as an aspect of lust. This sense comes from three of the five classic senses: sight, smell, and taste.
- Respiratory rate sensor – Pulmonary stretch receptors are found in the lungs and control the respiratory rate.
- Carbon dioxide level sensor – Peripheral chemoreceptors in the brain monitor the carbon dioxide and oxygen concentrations in the brain and give a warning feeling of suffocation if carbon dioxide levels get too high.
- The nausea sensor – The chemoreceptor trigger zone is an area of the medulla in the brain that receives inputs from blood-borne drugs or hormones, and communicates with the vomiting center.
- The high blood sugar sensor – Chemoreceptors in the circulatory system also measure salt levels and prompt thirst if they get too high. These sensors respond to high glucose levels in diabetics.
- The blush sensor – Cutaneous receptors in the skin not only respond to touch, pressure, and temperature but also respond to vasodilation in the skin such as blushing.
- The stomach gas sensor (AKA fart sensor) – Stretch receptors in the gastrointestinal tract sense gas distension that may result in colic pain.
- The gag reflex sensor – Sensory receptors in pharynx mucosa, similar to touch receptors in the skin, sense foreign objects such as food that may result in a gag reflex and corresponding gagging sensation.
- The “excretion” sensor – Stimulation of sensory receptors in the urinary bladder and rectum can lead to feelings of fullness.
- The headache sensor – Stimulation of stretch sensors that sense dilation of various blood vessels may result in pain, for example, a headache caused by vasodilation of brain arteries.
FACT: This means humans have several senses related to expelling gas, waste, or stomach contents from the body.
The Unknown Human Senses
It is very likely humans have additional senses we are not yet familiar with. Can humans sense electromagnetic fields like other animals? Can we feel that the universe is vibrating like we can feel other vibrations? Is there a “collective subconscious”? These are all metaphysical questions that science doesn’t yet have an answer too, although they are fun to speculate on the unkown potential human senses!
FACT: Studies have indicated that humans have genes whose purpose seems to be sensing magnetic fields in our eyes, but, in theory, our optical centers just no longer process it. According to the study, “The 100% response rate manifested by the study group suggested that the ability to detect low-strength, low-frequency MFs is a common property of the human nervous system.”
The Non-Human Senses
Animals have some of the same senses we have, and some we don’t. Even the ones that are the same tend to work differently. For instance, insects smell with their antennae, and sharks pair touch with timing to determine the direction of a smell. Cats can see in low light, and birds and bees can see ultraviolet light. Meanwhile, many invertebrates have a statocyst which helps with balance. In other words, the spectrum of senses that different animals can process, and how they process it, differs by the organism.Most Developed Senses in Animals (full documentary).
There is also a vast array of sense that other animals have that we don’t have, or that haven’t been confirmed. These include:
- The vomeronasal organ is an organ common in animals that is connected to the mouth cavity. It is used to detect pheromones. Being able to sense pheromones helps animals sense marked territory and other animals ready for mating.
- Echolocation is the ability to sense and process sound using sonar to retrieve spacial information. We have anecdotal evidence of this sense existing in some people. There is a useful YouTube video about one of many blind people who navigate using sonar here.
- Electroreception (electroception) is the ability to sense and process electric fields. For instance sharks and dolphins can use the ability to sense weak electric fields of schools of fish or use electrical signals to communicate.
- Magnetoception (or magnetoreception) is the capacity to sense and process magnetic fields, specifically the earth’s magnetic field. This works as an internal compass for animals and helps birds, mice, bacteria, and insects navigate their environment.
- Plant and other organism senses. Plants have a wide variety of senses unique to the plant kingdom. They can sense light, gravity, temperature, humidity, chemical substances, chemical gradients, reorientation, magnetic fields, infections, tissue damage and mechanical pressure. Also, in this respect, bacteria, archaea, fungi, and one would assume algae have unique senses (although I have to confirm this per case). One example is that bacteria and archaea use quorum sensing, a system of stimuli and response correlated to population density.
TIP: The phenomena of sensing electromagnetic fields is more amazing than it appears on the surface. We think that this sense may be interpreting quantum level data (see quantum field theory). Being able to harness this technology could mean big advances in quantum technology. Read more from Scientific American: Mouse Senses Magnetic Fields Possibly via Quantum Processes
- “Sense” Wikipedia.org
- “Stimulus modality” Wikipedia.org
- “Sensory receptor” Wikipedia.org
- “Effect of low-frequency magnetic fields on brain electrical activity in human subjects.” NIH.gov
- “Evidence of a nonlinear human magnetic sense” Sciencedirect.com
- “The Boy who Could See Like a bat” Youtube.com
- “Mouse Senses Magnetic Fields Possibly via Quantum Processes” Scientificamerican.com