Monday, 12 July 2010

The Importance Of Senses

When I say senses, what comes to mind first? Sight? Sound? Smell, taste, and touch? You’d be right. But what about the others? Did you know there are actually more than twenty senses? There are, and they’re broken down into two categories: exteroception and interoception. Exteroceptive senses include the basic five senses: sight, sound, scent, taste, and touch, as defined by Aristotle. As the name implies, it refers to external senses. But have you ever heard of interoceptive senses? Those refer to internal senses. Here are a few to ponder:

Proprioception – While exteroceptors are responsible for information from outside the body such as the eyes, ears, mouth, and skin, and interoceptors give information about the internal organs, proprioception is awareness of movement derived from muscular, tendon, and articular sources. It is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body. It also indicates whether the body is moving with required effort. Proprioreceptors are sometimes known as adequate stimuli receptors.

A great example of proprioception in action is the field sobriety test. Stand with your arms out to your sides, close your eyes, and with your finger, try to touch the tip of your nose. Easy enough when you’re sober, not so easy when you’re inebriated.

An easy way to remember this one is to think of proprioception as to propel or move.

Kinaesthesia – This sense is, in a way, linked to proprioception. Kinaesthesia places a greater sense on motion through muscle, tendon, and articular sensitivity, such as increased heart rate or adreniline. Consciously, one is unaware that these things are happening, but internal senses (the subconscience) that require additional movement will automatically trigger the receptors into action.

For anyone familiar with kinetics or kinesis, the Greek kinesis means movement and esthesia means awareness, therefore kinaesthesia is a sense of movement. The opposite of kinaesthesia is anesthesia, which is the sessation of movement. Anesthesia in the operating room is a term for a chemical that works by putting our body and mind to sleep for a short time so invasive procedures can be performed. Without it, some of the following senses would take over, which could be harmful to ones health!

Nociception – Also called nociperception, this sense allows us to feel pain and suffering. When we say something hurts, how does it hurt? Nociception sense tells us. But this sense has a threshold. Very little stimulus is required to sense pain, but once the threshold is crossed and we experience excruciating pain, it becomes hyperalgesia—hyper meaning excessive or over and above norms.

Equilibrioception – This sense is controlled by the inner ear and helps us walk straight. When one or both ears are damaged in some way, temporarily or permanently, it will affect how we move and behave. Other things to affect our sense of balance are weightlessness, seasickness, even a cold, all of which can, in turn, make us nauseous, which is one of the side effects of being off balance for too long. Equilibrioception occurs most often when we go on amusement park rides, on a boat, in the car, or anything else that puts us off balance. Some of us behave better when unbalanced for long periods of time and adjust quickly to the movement. But for those who get seasick or have motion sickness, it’s because their inner balance is harder to correct.

And easy way to remember equilibrioception is to remember equilibri is the first part of equilibrium...balance.

Thermoception – As thermo suggestions, this sense allows us to feel temperature differences, and is largely done by the skin. If you put your hand in a bucket of ice, thermoception tells us it’s extremely cold so we can react accordingly by taking out our hand. Walking across hot coals is an extreme test of endurance. In order to do that, we must disrupt our thermoceptors so we don’t feel the pain.

Magnetoception – Magnet/Magneto refers to the ability to detect direction, altitude, and/or location. This sense is most especially seen in migratory animals, especially birds. And claims have been made that it’s magnetoception that allows animals to develop regional maps in their heads. For example: deer follow the same path through the forest. Even when the forest is destroyed and a house is built in the middle of the original path, deer will leap shrubs and tear down fences in order to complete the path in their ingrained memories. Magnetoception is also common in humans who have a ‘good sense of direction.’ Consider a magnetic compass. It’s a simple device that uses a small magnet and a needle to detect north. Like a magnetic compass, an internal or natural compass helps us with direction.

Sense of Time – Although the sense of time is not associated with a specific sensory system, the work of scientists indicate that human brains have a system governing the perception of time. An example would be when our internal body clock wakes us at the same time every day.

Intuition – Have you ever just known something? Have you ever felt someone looking at you? Or have you even sensed when someone was in the room but didn’t hear them enter? We call this a gut feeling. Intuition provides us with beliefs we can’t necessarily justify.

And the list goes on. Why have I talked about these senses rather than the basic five as defined by Aristotle? Because we all already know them. Sitting at your computer you experience sight to read this article, touch by using your mouse to scroll the page, hearing if you have music playing in the background, taste and smell if you’re enjoying a snack while you read. But how many of the other senses have you experienced or related to while reading this, or going about your daily routine?

How many programs do you watch with characters who use some of these senses?

..........- Patrick Jane of ‘The Mentalist’ does his job through intuition.
..........- Xander Cage from ‘xXx’ has a great sense of equilibrioception—as an adrenaline junkie this is important since he jumps out of planes, leaps off bridges, and drives at incredible speeds. And he probably has a high sense of proprioception, kinaesthesia and magnetoception.
..........- Tony Stark from ‘Iron Man’ has a great sense of magnetoception. Flying around the world to save people, you’d want to know where you’re going.
..........- Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch from ‘Fantastic Four,’ controls his thermoreceptors when he’s on fire.
..........- Superman, the ultimate hero, uses many of these senses we’ve talked about here today, including thermoreceptors to keep him warm in his ‘Fortress of Solitude’ at the North Pole!

It’s important to mention these other senses, especially within a writing context. Has your hero been shot? He’s probably going to be in a lot of pain if he’s conscious. That’s nociception. And it’s intuition that tells the heroine which way to run for help.

Have you used any of these senses in your writing in the past? If so, how so? And if you haven’t, how will you use them in your writing now that you know more about them?

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