Is it the theory of the 5 senses obsolete?

Is it the theory of the 5 senses obsolete?

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An enigmatic topic in traditional science was labelled as the mystery of the 5 senses, and how to best group senses by type.

Is that theory now meaningless?

Do Scientists still agree that that there are 5 types of sense, and no salient new 6th sense which can't be classed with the others?

There was widely accepted merit for that summary classification, because it was the best logical process to approach a complex subject.

The theory questioned the controversial logic of these groups: Soundwaves, Photons, Chemical scent of the air, chemical scent of taste and touch which represents any nerves found in the rest of the body.

It depends who's counting and according to what criteria.

Some neuroscientists argue that smell and taste are one sense because altering one produces substantial changes in the other.

Conversely, if you break down the senses to receptors, you get at least 5 different for taste and 1000 or more for smell.

Touch is thought to be the first sense that humans develop, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Touch consists of several distinct sensations communicated to the brain through specialized neurons in the skin. Pressure, temperature, light touch, vibration, pain and other sensations are all part of the touch sense and are all attributed to different receptors in the skin.

Touch isn't just a sense used to interact with the world it also seems to be very important to a human's well-being. For example, touch has been found to convey compassion from one human to another.

Touch can also influence how humans make decisions. Texture can be associated with abstract concepts, and touching something with a texture can influence the decisions a person makes, according to six studies by psychologists at Harvard University and Yale University, published in the June 24, 2010, issue of the journal Science.

"Those tactile sensations are not just changing general orientation or putting people in a good mood," said Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor of marketing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "They have a specific tie to certain abstract meanings." [Just a Touch Can Influence Thoughts and Decisions]

24.2 Theories and Perspectives in Science Education

Numerous theories and perspectives concerning the teaching and learning of science are addressed in this book, a few of the more prominent ones of which are referenced here.

24.2.1 – Active Learning: Learn by Doing
Active learning is a set of strategies that posits the responsibility for learning with the student. Discovery learning , problem-based learning (22.3), experiential learning, and inquiry-based instruction (22.1) are examples of active learning. Discussion, debate (22.4), student questioning (5.1, 22.1, 23.1), think-pair-share (25.7), quick-writes (25.7), polling, role playing, cooperative learning (22.3, 22.5), group projects (13.1-8, 22.5), and student presentations (22.4) are a few of the many activities that are learner driven. It should be noted, however, that even lecture can be an active learning event if students processes and filter information as it is provided. Cornell notes (3.1) and diagramming (16.2) are a couple of activities that can make lectures active learning events.

24.2.2 – Teaching to multiple learning modalities
We can learn through any of our five senses, but the three most valuable are vision, hearing, and touch. Theorists and practitioners claim that learners have a preference for one learning style over another. Visual learners learn best by watching, while auditory learners learn best by verbal instruction, and kinesthetic learners learn best by manipulation. Because of the demands of the profession, teachers often resort to the instructional style that requires the least time and preparation, namely lecture and discussion. Although these may be valuable approaches to teaching and learning, they fail to take advantage of other learning modalities, and disenfranchise students whose primary modality is visual or kinesthetic. Throughout this book we emphasize the use of all three modalities in teaching and learning.

24.2.3 – Teaching to multiple intelligences
Intelligence is a property of the mind that includes many related abilities such as the capacities to reason, plan, solve problems, comprehend language and ideas, learn new concepts, and think abstractly. Historically, psychometricians have measured intelligence with a single score (intelligence quotient, IQ) on a standardized test, finding that such scores are predictive of later intellectual achievement. Howard Gardner and others assert that there are multiple intelligences, and that no single score can accurately reflect a person’s intelligence. More importantly, the theory of multiple intelligences implies that people learn better through certain modalities than others, and that the science teacher should design curriculum to address as many modalities as possible. Gardner identifies seven intelligences, which are listed below. The numbers in parentheses indicate sections in this book that address each intelligence.

  • Logical /Mathematical Intelligence is used when thinking conceptually (6.1-4, 7.1-7, 10.1-5, 13.9, 16.1-6, 18.1-3), computing (14.1-3, 15.1-7, 17.1-7, 20.1, 20.8), looking for patterns (1.1-4,16.4, 16.6, 17.5-7), and classifying (8.1-6, 19.1-5)
  • Linguistic/Language Intelligence is used when learning by listening (21.1), verbalizing (1.1-4, 3.1-4, 11.2-4, 22.6), reading (2.1-4), translating (14.1-3), and discussing (8.6, 22.4).
  • Naturalist Intelligence is used to question (5.1, 22.1, 23.1), observe (5.2-3, 22.2), investigate (23.2), and experiment (5.1-10, 23.3-4).
  • Visual / Spatial Intelligence is used when learning with models (12.1-5), photographs (16.4, 16.6), videos (16.5), diagrams (8.1-6, 16.1-3, 20.2-7), maps (21.1-7) and charts (20.2-7).
  • Bodily kinesthetic intelligence is used to process knowledge through bodily sensations (12.2), movements (12.2), physical activity (labs in companion volumes, Hands-on Chemistry and Hands-on Physics ), and manipulation (22.2).
  • Interpersonal Intelligence is used when learning through cooperative learning experiences (22.3, 22,5), group games (13.1-8), group lab work (22.5), and dialog (8.6, 23.4).
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence is used when learning through self-dialog (7.1-3,11.1), studying (11.2-4) and self-assessment (7.4-7).
  • Musical Intelligence is used when learning through rhythm, melody, and non-verbal sounds in the environment (24.8).

24.2.4 – Metacognition: Teaching students to think about their thinking
John Flavel argues that learning is maximized when students learn to think about their thinking and consciously employ strategies to maximize their reasoning and problem solving capabilities. A metacognitive thinker knows when and how he learns best, and employs strategies to overcome barriers to learning. As students learn to regulate and monitor their thought processes and understanding, they learn to adapt to new learning challenges. Expert problem solvers first seek to develop an understanding of problems by thinking in terms of core concepts and major principles (6.1-4, 7.1-7, 11.1-4). By contrast, novice problem solvers have not learned this metacognitive strategy, and are more likely to approach problems simply by trying to find the right formulas into which they can insert the right numbers. A major goal of education is to prepare students to be flexible for new problems and settings. The ability to transfer concepts from school to the work or home environment is a hallmark of a metacognitive thinker (6.4).

24.2.5 –Developing higher order reasoning
Perhaps the most widely used classification of human thought is Bloom’s Taxonomy . Benjamin Bloom and his team or researchers wrote extensively on the subject, particularly on the six basic levels of cognitive outcomes they identified – knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Bloom’s taxonomy (6.1) is hierarchical, with knowledge, comprehension and application as fundamental levels, and analysis, synthesis and evaluation as advanced (6.1-6.4). When educators refer to “higher level reasoning,” they are generally referring to analysis, synthesis and/or evaluation. One of the major themes of this book is to develop higher order thinking skills through the teaching of science.

24.2.6 –Constructivism: Helping students build their understanding of science
Constructivism is a major learning theory, and is particularly applicable to the teaching and learning of science. Piaget suggested that through accommodation and assimilation, individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences. Constructivism views learning as a process in which students actively construct or build new ideas and concepts based upon prior knowledge and new information. The constructivist teacher is a facilitator who encourages students to discover principles and construct knowledge within a given framework or structure. Throughout this book we emphasize the importance of helping students connect with prior knowledge and experiences as new information is presented, so they can dispense with their misconceptions (7.4-7) and build a correct understanding. Seymour Papert, a student of Piaget, asserted that learning occurs particularly well when people are engaged in constructing a product. Papert’s approach, known as constructionism, is facilitated by model building (12.5), robotics, video editing (16.5), and similar construction projects.

24.2.7 – Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) in science
An expert scientist is not necessarily an effective teacher. An expert science teacher, however, knows the difficulties students face and the misconceptions they develop, and knows how to tap prior knowledge while presenting new ideas so students can build new, correct understandings. Schulman refers to such expertise as pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), and says that excellent teachers have both expert content knowledge, and expert PCK. In How People Learn, Bransford, Brown and Cocking state: “Expert teachers have a firm understanding of their respective disciplines, knowledge of the conceptual barriers that students face in learning about the discipline, and knowledge of effective strategies for working with students. Teachers' knowledge of their disciplines provides a cognitive roadmap to guide their assignments to students, to gauge student progress, and to support the questions students ask.” Expert teachers are aware of common misconceptions and help students resolve them. This book is dedicated to improving science teacher pedagogical content knowledge.

Bonwell, C. & Eison, J. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom AEHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.1. Washington, D.C.: Jossey-Bass.

Bruner, J. S. (1961). The act of discovery. Harvard Educational Review 31(1): 21–32.

How many senses do we have?

Just how many senses does a human being have? If you Google this question you will find, as with just about anything else you might care to Google, a variety of answers. Some say we have seven senses, while others put the total at nine, ten, or twelve. What’s the right answer? We won’t have remakes of all the other articles, so in short: it all depends on how you define things.

Let’s first observe that all of the numbers in the paragraph above are greater than five. It doesn’t take much reflection to figure out that humans possess more than the five “classical” senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

The idea of five classical senses dates back at least to Aristotle, himself a rather classy guy. In De Anima (Of the Soul) he argues that, for every sense, there is a sense organ. So far, he’s on reasonably solid ground. It’s when he goes on to say that there can be no sixth sense, because there are only five sense organs, that he gets himself into trouble.

It doesn’t take much reflection to figure out that humans possess more than the five “classical” senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

Because when you start counting sense organs, you get to six right away: the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and the vestibular system. Our understanding of the vestibular system’s role as a sense organ dates only to the early 1800s, more than two millennia after Aristotle. We now know that the vestibular system, located in the inner ear, is an integral part of how we balance ourselves, but it also plays a critical role in vision, allowing us to keep our two eyes focused on things even while our heads are moving about.

So, six sense organs are quickly identified, but that doesn’t get us to nine, ten, or twelve senses. Let’s tweak Aristotle’s definition of what a sense is just a bit. Instead of a sense organ, each separate sense really only requires a different kind of sensory receptor. In the skin alone, there are at least four different kinds of sensory receptors: those for touch, temperature, pain, and proprioception (or body awareness). A sensory receptor is a specialized cell that sends electrical signals to the brain in response to the type of stimuli the cell is optimized for. The rods and cones in the retina are sensory receptors. They send signals when stimulated by light of various wavelengths and intensities. The skin is brimming over with sensory receptors optimized not only for touch, but for other things as well, such as hot and cold. There are at least six different kinds of temperature receptors, each optimized for a different temperature range.

If we have six different kinds of temperature receptors, does that mean that our ability to sense hot and cold is really six different senses, and not just one? I suppose you could argue that, but what would be the point? Consider human vision.

Human eyes contain four different kinds of sensory receptors: three types of cones (optimized for long, medium, and short wavelength light) and rods (optimized for low light conditions). Thus equipped, human beings can “see.” We have “vision.” But that’s only the beginning of the story. Human vision entails the ability to distinguish light from dark. For some primitive creatures, this is as far as their vision takes them. We humans can tell light from dark, we can distinguish images, we can see in color (as a result of having three types of cones), and, having two eyes, we possess stereovision. So just how many senses do our eyes afford us? One? Two? Three? Four? The conventional wisdom says we’ve got eyes, we can see, and that’s one sense. Good enough for me.

The point of all this is that it is harder than it might first appear to put a definitive figure on the total number of senses that humans possess. At some point, it becomes just a bit arbitrary. So here’s my list of nine human senses, which may be a little longer, or shorter, than yours:

  1. Vision
  2. Hearing
  3. Smell
  4. Taste
  5. Touch
  6. Balance
  7. Temperature
  8. Proprioception (body awareness)
  9. Pain

John M. Henshaw is Harry H. Rogers Professor and Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Tulsa. His books, A Tour of the Senses: How Your Brain Interprets the World, and Does Measurement Measure Up? How Numbers Reveal and Conceal the Truth, are published by JHU Press.

Piaget’s Schemas.

Piaget included the concept of the “schema” into his theory. What this means is that the child develops a mental pattern to understand his or her world. In addition, the child can use other templates or patterns, adapt it and use it in conjunction with his or her own schema that was constructed using their own experiences.

These experiences have been acquired through assimilation and accommodation.

John Sweller also incorporated schemas into Cognitive Load Theory, which uses cognitivism as a basis to explain how students process and learn new information.

Surroundings and Evolution Shape Human Sight, Smell and Taste

Understanding how the five senses evolved can help inform how human sight, smell and taste continue to shift based on the environment, according to three researchers at the 2017 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.

We are currently experiencing “a state of mismatch” between the ways our senses evolved and our current surroundings, according to Kara C. Hoover, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Our ancestors’ visual acuity evolved outside in the natural world, said Amanda Melin, assistant professor of anthropology and archeology and medical genetics at the University of Calgary. Yet, humans now spend significant amounts of time inside and this is adjusting our vision, she said.

“There’s mounting evidence that our anthropogenic light environments are having a real cost on our acuity,” said Melin, with rates of myopia – or nearsightedness – skyrocketing in recent years. While myopia does have a genetic component, evidence suggests that dark rooms, artificial lighting and “near-work tasks,” like staring at a computer screen or into a microscope, contribute as well.

Humans can correct nearsightedness with glasses, contact lenses or surgery, but myopia can put individuals at risk for other diseases such as glaucoma and retinal detachment, she said. Studies have shown that 40 minutes outside each day decreases chances of getting myopia between 25% and 50%, Melin said.

Yet the environmental changes wrought by human activity impact non-human primates as well, she said. Primates in general, even those that are nocturnal, are highly visually dependent. Sight drives nearly every aspect of their lives, including catching prey and communicating with other animals. In areas without light pollution, skies are actually getting darker due to pollutants and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere scattering light. Scientists do not know how non-human primates will cope with global darkening, Melin said.

Additionally, natural light even with its beneficial ability to lessen chances of acquiring myopia can be tainted with pollutants and less-than-fresh air can play with our sense of smell, Hoover said. The ability of humans to smell has adapted over time to aid survival and reproduction, helping humans identify nutritious foods, select partners and avoid spoiled food and other dangers, she said.

Much research has been done on our “smell-being,” particularly on how our environment continues to transform – and disrupt – our sense of smell, Hoover said. People in polluted environments have been found to have a diminished sense of smell, which will only become more common as the global population continues to urbanize, she said.

Studies have shown the ability to detect smells can modify mental, social and physical health, but some people – those who live near factories or mining communities, for instance – are at greater risk of a diminished sense of smell and all of the attendant problems that can spark, she said. We are living in an age of “sensory inequities,” Hoover said.

“We’re not going to leave buildings, we’re not going to leave our computers, we’re not going to abandon that, so we need to actually create environments that engage us with the outdoors and also that, when we go outside, we’re not in a polluted space,” Hoover said.

Paul Breslin, professor of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University, has looked at our sense of taste to understand why we are drawn to certain flavors – and how taste preferences can harm or help our health.

Not every species loves sugar, but humans do – and so do apes, who are omnivores who love fruit and obtain about 80% of their calories from fruit, Breslin said. We’re also drawn to sour, acidic tastes, the other flavor present in fruit, he noted. Unlike other animals, humans and other primates have lost the gene that codes an enzyme to allow us to produce our own Vitamin C, likely because we were eating enough Vitamin C-rich fruit, he said.

To get these crucial nutrients and calories, other apes will go into a tree and gorge themselves on fruit until it’s gone. Humans do this, too, though metaphorically, Breslin said.

“We climb up into this tree that our society has created, and we gorge on the fruit, but the tree never runs out of fruit and we never come out of the tree,” Breslin said. “We have to keep in mind that we need to force ourselves down … periodically.”

Another type of food we are primed to prefer could help mitigate a persistent health problem and save lives, Breslin said. Humans are attracted to fermented food and drinks, including wine, beer, bread, fermented meats like pepperoni and fermented dairy like cheese and yogurt, he said. Properly fermented foods can promote a healthy gastrointestinal microbiome by delivering probiotics and prevent diarrheal diseases, the most common disease on the planet among humans and the second-largest killer of children, he said.

“I believe that if we eat more fermented foods we’ll be able to have a positive impact on helping prevent and treat this,” said Breslin.

What if the 5 senses are really just 1?

"How things taste depends on a lot of other factors than what's on the tongue," says Don Katz. "We think that taste and smell are part of one large system with two doors," the mouth and the nose. (Credit: eli santana/Flickr)

You are free to share this article under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

Ask even the youngest schoolchild how many senses we have and she’ll tell you five: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

Neuroscientist Don Katz thinks this might be wrong. The correct answer, he says, will most likely turn out to be one.

For nearly a decade, Katz, an associate professor of psychology at Brandeis University, has been investigating the interconnection of smell and taste in rats. In 2009, he showed that when rats lose their ability to taste, it alters their sense of smell. Two years later, he published a paper suggesting that rats depend on smell as much as taste to determine what food they like.

In a paper published recently in Current Biology, Katz showed what happened when you shut down the rat’s sense of taste. Using an optical probe, he turned off the brain cells in the animal’s primary olfactory cortex that process taste signals from the mouth. There was an immediate impact on the firing patterns of the neurons handling smell.

[Eye trick reveals that musicians even see in tune]

In fact, the smell neurons were transformed so radically the rat could no longer recognize familiar odors.

These findings about the interdependence of taste and smell have lead Katz to speculate that they are one single sense—the “chemosensory system” is what he calls it. “How things taste depends on a lot of other factors than what’s on the tongue,” Katz says. “We think that taste and smell are part of one large system with two doors,” the mouth and the nose, he says.

Other researchers have shown that sound, touch, and sight are also inextricably connected. This leads Katz to a grand hypothesis—all our senses belong to a single system. We have only one sense. It’s meaningless, for example, to talk of the taste of food because “taste” is equally a function of what you sense on your tongue as it is of what you see, touch, smell, and hear. We don’t taste food. We have an experience of food.

[Fear makes noses more sensitive to smells]

Katz likens the brain to a computer fed an immense amount of data so it can generate a single, simplified finding. For the program to run, information must be gathered through all the senses. But we don’t realize this. We are only aware of program’s final result, which is the illusion that only one sense is responsible for what we experience.

All this remains unproven. Katz plans to continue working on taste and smell in rats. Research moves forward incrementally and methodically. But somewhere in the not-so distant future, we may finally have a grand unified theory of the senses.


  • Humor: Yellow Bile
  • Element: Fire
  • Season: Summer
  • Age: Childhood
  • Qualities: Hot & Dry
  • Organ: Gall Bladder
  • Planet: Mars


Before we fast forward to today, let’s establish a simplified definition of consciousness as self-awareness.

In reality, scientists are still attempting to quantify the unquantifiable previously contemplated throughout the last millennia by philosophers such as Plato, Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Bertrand Russell, Einstein, and many more.

Research is struggling to move beyond theory to answer rudimentary questions such as whether consciousness originates within the brain, or if the brain acts like a receiver that processes non-physical signals.

A Harvard team of researchers think they’ve pinpointed the brainstem regions that are the physical source of consciousness. Whether it’s the origin of consciousness remains unanswered.

Dr. Lucien Hardy from the Perimeter Institute in Ontario, Canada recently proposed a quantum entanglement experiment to determine if consciousness is local or non-local that could even throw previous interpretations of quantum mechanics and free will into question.

What we do know is consciousness is the individuated subjective experience. I (subject) see an (object) therefore, I know I exist.

Theoretical physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku sums up consciousness as, “. the process of creating multiple feedback loops to create a model of yourself in space with regard to others, and in time. ”

In the linked video, Dr. Kaku goes on to state he believes beings embody varying levels of consciousness similar to what Eastern traditions call levels of sentience.

(Interesting Note: Years ago, I met Dr. Kaku at a book signing at Wright State University. I gave him a copy of my book, What Is God? Rolling Back the Veil, explaining sentience and levels.)

Feedback loop . . . Think back to those old dusty Britannicas sitting in your parent’s basement. Human consciousness drafted their content that went on to inform human consciousness as a feedback loop.

Consciousness was recognized in 1918 by Nobel Prize winner and one of the founding fathers of Quantum Theory, Max Planck, as fundamental to all aspects of life.

I regard matter as derivative from consciousness . . . Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing postulates consciousness.” – Max Planck, Theoretical Physicist

In other words, Planck is stating his yet unproven belief that feedback loops exist within nature. Matter is derived from consciousness recycling back to consciousness.

A modern-day pioneer in the field of unified physics is Nassim Haramein, Director of Research at the Resonance Science Foundation where he leads a team of physicists, mathematicians, and engineers.

Everything emerges and returns to a fundamental field of information that connects us all.” – Nassim Haramein

Again, information is a form or byproduct of consciousness consciousness is information.

That all life is inseparable and interdependent will be one of the most important revelations in modern physics.

Is there a universal hierarchy of human senses?

Research at the University of York has shown that the accepted hierarchy of human senses -- sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell -- is not universally true across all cultures.

Researchers found that rather than being able to predict the importance of the senses from biology, cultural factors were most important.

Study revealed that cultures which placed particular value on their specialist musical heritage were able to communicate more efficiently on describing sounds, even when non-musicians were tested. Similarly, living in a culture that produces patterned pottery made people better able to talk about shapes.

The findings could prove significant for a range of practices in education and other professions to help further enhance how people understand and utilise their sensory perceptions of the world.

Professor of Language, Communication, and Cultural Cognition at the University of York's Department of Psychology, Asifa Majid, said: "Scientists have spent hundreds of years trying to understand how human sensory organs work, concluding that sight is the most important sense, followed hearing, touch, taste and smell.

"Previous research has shown that English speakers find it easy to talk about the things that they can see, such as colours and shapes, but struggle to name the things that they smell. It was not known, however, if this was universally true across other languages and cultures."

To answer this question, an international team led by Professor Majid, conducted a large-scale experiment to investigate the ease with which people could communicate about colors, shapes, sounds, textures, tastes and smells.

Speakers of 20 diverse languages, including three different sign languages, from across the globe were tested, ranging from hunter-gatherers to post-industrial societies.

If the commonly accepted hierarchy of the senses were true, participants in the study should have been able to communicate about vision most easily, followed by sounds, such as loud and quiet textures, such as smooth and rough taste, such as sweet and sour and smell, such as chocolate and coffee.

Professor Majid, said: "While English speakers behaved as predicted, describing sight and sound with ease, this was not the case across all cultures.

"Across all cultures, people found smell the most difficult to talk about, reflecting the widely-held view that smell is the 'mute sense.' A traditional hunter-gatherer group from Australia, however, who speak the language Umpila, showed the best performance in talking about smell, outranking all other 19 cultures."

English speakers struggled to talk about basic tastes, but speakers of Farsi and Lao, however, showed almost perfect scores in being able to identify taste, perhaps reflecting the differences in how people engage with cultural cuisines.

Professor Majid said: "What this study shows us is that we can't always assume that understanding certain human functions within the context of the English language provides us with a universally relevant perspective or solution.

"In a modern digital-led world, which typically engages sight and hearing, it could be worthwhile learning from other cultures in the way that taste and smell can be communicated, for example.

"This could be particularly important for the future of some professions, such as the food industry, for example, where being able to communicate about taste and smell is essential."

The research, supported by the Max Planck Institute, is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Watch the video: Η θεωρία του Συμπεριφορισμού κατά τον Watson (June 2022).


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