Exploding the five senses

A sideways look at human sensing abilities

©Andrew Cook
30th June 2000


  1. Introduction
  2. A list of medically recognised senses
  3. Filtering - How we get what we think we need
  4. Pain and acceptance
  5. Seeing Clearly - the obscure world of Synaesthesia
  6. Sound, Hearing and Vibration
  7. Smell and all that jazz
  8. The eyes have it ...
  9. ... and the skin has it too!
  10. References

1. Introduction

There is a common fallacy that there are only five senses, and that they are purely physical / mechanical "sensors" - just like a tyre pressure gauge or a decibel meter. Let's start with the commonly accepted senses - Touch, Hearing, Smell, Taste and Sight, and find how limited the number 5 is, even at a cursory glance. I use the analogy of an Office Manager to describe how senses are filtered, and, since I am male, have assumed that he is too. My humble apologies to female readers. When God created Man, She was only practicing.

Three things in particular are common themes in this article. Firstly, the amount of crossover and duplication of function between different sense organs, and between external and internal sense receptors. We are all connected, and Chief Seattle was right in more ways than one. Secondly, the inextricable interweaving of emotions/feelings with the senses - "I feel threfore I am" would be a modern development of Descartes. Monty Python changed it to "I drink therefore I am", and a corollary of that would be "I think, therefore I drink". Thirdly, the huge amount of information which you are receiving every moment of the day is filtered and edited, and we can consciously choose to sense far more than we would be led to believe by the culture within which we live.

2. A list of medically recognised senses

The following list is a summary of the most commonly recognised senses we have :

These senses are the means by which we can interpret whatever we "sense". I could add others such as thirst and hunger, and the many "non-conscious" senses in our body - such as carbon dioxide/oxygen ratio, stomach acidity, etc. In fact, we already have a list of 16 different readily accessible, everyday senses identified, many of which have a huge overlap. Emotions (to describe them from a purely physical point of view) represent both chemical receptor information and patterns of feeling sensation (as well as direct responses to sound and visual stimulus). Movement is sensed by at least three different systems, which is why computer simulations of reality create nausea - our different senses know that the messages they are getting are in conflict.

3. Filtering - How we get what we think we need

Imagine a busy office, with the boss in a chair, being constantly surrounded by messengers. Every second, they're telling him where his vans are, what time of day it is, how full or empty the coffee machine is, how many people are working, what the cash flow is - and so on. Who'd have a job like that? Well we all do, and the way our imaginary boss gets around it all is to delegate and filter. First of all, he makes sure that the important everyday jobs which have to be carried out all the time whether he's there or not (breathing, heartbeat, digestion, blood pressure, fluid balance, etc) are under a reliable deputy manager, and are all made as automatic as possible. Secondly, he decides on perhaps a slightly less rational basis what other information he does or doesn't want to hear. Some messengers will keep giving him information he doesn't know how to use, and he will probably tell them to stop pestering him. After a while, he might even forget that they exist, and they will then malinger in dark corners of the office, spreading rumours. Others will bring information he really wants to hear, or information he's particularly worried about - and so these will be given preference. Other messages will be quite garbled on their own, but when compared to other messages might show an interesting pattern, and so he sets up an interpretation office. All this is carried out through his PA - who he trusts to act according to his instructions (and as you know, good PA's are very diligent, and protect their boss from all sorts of trivia).

This is almost exactly how our brain/mind/body works. Everything we consciously experience has already passed through a set of filters for usefulness, need-to-know, want-to-know (and don't-want-to-know), interpretation and censoring. Part of that censoring system is our belief system as to how the world works, what's important, what exists and what doesn't exist (the nature of reality - see Escher's pictures for a wonderful double take), and what our day-to-day priorities are. If we live in fear of not having other people's love and approval, all of our senses will either be tuned strongly into, or out of information which relates to this. We become oversensitive, or thick skinned - two extreme and opposite reactions to the same stimuli.

Because everything goes through an interpretation manager first, the information we get is often how we expect or want it to be (for a perfect example of this, see the film "American Beauty"). This is true as much for our "5 senses" as for our emotional life. I asked a client of mine once "Do you want three weeks or four?" (meaning interval before the next treatment). She heard it as "Do you want three weeks off work?". Sorry, I don't sign sick notes. It's funny how there is the term "Freudian Slip" for someone saying something they didn't mean to say, but no recognised term for someone hearing something which wasn't said... Is it a Banana in the Ear syndrome? A prize for the best suggestion.

And there's the old Jungle tale of a man who went fishing, riding a chestnut horse to a lonely spot in the forset on the banks of the river Ganges. He tied the horse to a tree behind him. After a short time, the horse started making a noise, whinnying, snorting, stamping in panic and trying to move from where it was tied. he went to the horse, and calmed it down, returned to his fishing, but yet agin the horse became agitated. After a while, having tried to quiet and calm the horse many times, he just ignored it, and sat fishing. He positioned himself with his back against a tree, so that he was comfortable, and had the chestnut horse just visible from the corner of his eye. To his relief, the horse eventually did go quiet. When the man finally stopped fishing two hours later and looked behind himself, a tiger got up from eating the horse and melted back into the jungle. For more on Tigers and instinct, I recommend "Man Eaters of the Kumaon" by Jim Corbett.

The way all this works in practice is that - from at least a sensory point of view - "we get more of what we focus on". If we place attention on pain rather than the feelings of wellness/normality in the rest of the body, then the internal PA will think that's what we are interested in and give us more of it. If we ignore the body, then the "volume" of somatic senses decreases, so then we are even more aware of thoughts.. The problem is that thoughts on their own are fundamentally unstable and can go anywhere - and the somatic sense of physical presence and strength increases the psychological sense of strength and presence. That isn't to say that we should also ignore pain or other unpleasannt, weak or uncomfortable sensations - but if they are focussed on to the exclusion of everything else, they become disproportionately strong in our awareness and appear to dominate our life. So it is important to cultivate the skill of being generally body-aware, and particularly of being able to be aware of the "warm, alive and strong" feelings. If we spend a small part of the day deliberately enjoying these, then our internal PA will realise that's what we want more of, and will place them on the desk for us to see every morning.

An interesting anecdote around the inner PA. I wanted to find a proportionate and suitable design of porch to go round my front door, and so my partner and I spent half a day driving round the countryside looking for porches, to see what did and didn't work. We enjoyed the time out from work, and were really interested in what we were doing, and after a short while, "strange" things started happening. We started to find that our heads would turn exactly at the right moment to see a porch - even if it had been hidden by trees and we ended up looking backwards, somehow we seemed to "know" where to look. After a few days of continued automatic head turning we realised that we had somehow programmed ourselves to detect porches. It took 3 months to de-program this reaction. I would like you to consider what you might have unwittingly programmed yourself to see.... do you tend to find violence or threatening behaviour wherever you go? Do you see angels in the architecture? Do you see people who care about other people? What programs and preferences would you like to have your inner PA follow?

A couple of relevant and interesting links : Firstly Gestalt perception, and secondly Change Blindness

4. Pain and acceptance

Pain is a particularly interesting sense. A few words to describe pain are listed below - they are often used in combination ...

Some pains are associated with specific physical conditions. It is possible to subjectively distinguish between the pain in a muscle which has not been worked, and the pain of a ligament/muscle/tendon starting to tear. The itchy pain which comes when wounds heal is quite distinctive too - and I suspect that we are actually sensing some physico-chemical(or even electrical) activity around the repair site - another sense to add to the list. As a culture, we avoid pain too much. Pain can be necessary for tissues to repair, because it is associated with a local change in electrical activity. Pain can be telling us something important - just like the oil warning light in a car. Often, the almost automatic response is to try to block pain - regardless of the circmstances.

Culturally there is so much fear of pain in the West that I'm sure the pains experienced by some (not all) people are ten times worse than they could be, simply because of the level of fear response.

It's really quite simple - when we tense up in response to the pain (and the emotions surrounding it), then this physical tension creates additional strain and pressure on the nerves which run through the area. Almost inevitably this leads to increased pain. One strategy for reducing pain which I know works (from my personal experience, and the often incredulous experience of a hospital relaxation class I ran for 2 years) is to accept the pain, embrace it, and relax around it. If you can accept the pain wholeheartedly, it will usualy reduce, or even disappear. Then you can focus elsewhere (there's no point in wallowing in the pain - the process is "accept and then move on").

Pain is very much linked with emotions, and we talk about feeling pain when we are grieving. This is usually in the chest area. Not only the heart, but the lungs. As is well known in Chinese medicine, Lung conditions are often associated with grief of some kind. Often this is a real "physical" pain - again related to muscular contraction in the organ which contains the emotional response. It can be difficult to separate physical causes from emotional causes. In my CST practice I have come across people who have been kept in an uncomfortable emotional state by a physical condition which creates sensations exactly the same as the emotion - most often this is deep depression (which can be caused by simply joint compression after an accident). I have seen far more cases the other way round - physical pain, which actually has a strong emotional component (usually some issue which has not been fully accepted, or even recognised). This type of physical pain often recedes when the emotional component is recognised and fully dealt with. The emotions and body are in fact so interactive that it is hard to draw any clear dividing line between the two.

5. Seeing Clearly - the obscure world of Synaesthesia

Vision is particularly odd, in that it is possible to visualise - literally see from inside - and everyone can do this to some degree or other. If we were to remember together - what can we remember? Lets remember the colour of your front door, or the space around your front door, or what you're going to wear tomorrow, or what colour of yellow is a lemon which has just been squeezed in your mouth...? You will all have - whether you are aware of it or not - visualised - and probably salivated too.

You also probably had certain mild emotions or feelings related to the particular subjects, and some of you will have heard sounds, internal comments, your favourite song running through your head, or even had a smell/taste of the memory of a lemon (and a production of saliva). Now you might not think that this is anything to do with seeing or eyes, or even any of the other senses, but I assure you very strongly that it is. In a remarkable book called The Man who Tasted Shapes, Richard Cytowic talks about the phenomenon of synaesthesia.

Synaesthesia is a relatively rare medical condition, in which the normal 5 senses become interlinked, and sensation happens continuously and very strongly through two of them at once. For instance, someone might smell, but experience the smells as different colours or textures. She might hear a sound, and see a pattern which is specific to that chord, tempo, rhythm, or note. Or, as in the case of the book title, a person who tastes ses images of (or feels) very specific shapes associated with very specific smells. Or feel a texture and hear a particular sound, or see a colour.

Synaesthesia is different from imagination in that the combinations of shape/taste (or whatever) are totally reproducible, and appear to be hard-wired into the brain of the person. Most recorded synaesthesia is between only two very well defined senses. And synaesthetics - people who have this condition - usually have remarkable minds and memories - because they experience the world quite differently from anyone else. It is my belief that we all experience some form of synaesthesia on a regular basis. This happens particularly strongly when sensory input is close to the lower limit of what we can percieve. At this lower limit, senses always cross over, because our body recignises our desire to percieve, and gives us the information in the best way it can. This is mainy based on our predeliction for particular senses. In NLP terminology, we are either V (visual), K (kinaesthetic), or A (auditory), or a combination of two of these. Kinesethetic (touchy-feely people) will feel their way through something, and will tend to divert information from other senses into their proprioceptors and emotions. Visual people will divert information into their innner vision, and auditory people will start to tell themselves something. If you consider even the possibility that we can consciously sense a property such as magnetism, which doesn't belong to the world of the normal 5 senses, then we must of necessity experience it through the medium of a more familiar sense, such as pictures, colours, feeling or sound.

Of particular importance is the principle that we only consciously experience through the "Five Senses". Eventually with practice, it is possible to tell the difference between different sensations or qualities of sensation, and relate them to different sources of sensation. However, when we start to deal with sensing such things as light, magnetism and electric fields (not to mention "Chi"), we still only have our normal senses to give us messages, and so the principle of synaesthesia becomes crucial. To take the Office Manager analogy again, he starts to receive business letters from China. Once he realises that they may be important, he asks his PA to have them translated into English. Much of the nuance of the original language may be lost, but unless he learns Chinese, a translation is the best available.

6. Sound, Hearing and Vibration

Sound is a physical vibration of physical particles, fluids (like water and air) and semi-rigid to rigid structures - and I'm particularly thinking about the cells of your body. We call it sound simply because it reaches our ears through air (or water if you're diving in the swimming pool), but as someone suffering from tinnitus will tell you, sound does not necessarily have to originate in the air to be "heard."

External sounds are at face value very simple, although they don't just hit our ears - the ears are "just" the most sensitive organ for detecting vibration. If that weren't true, then Evelyn Glennie would be an urban myth, wouldn't she? Rhythm/tempo is also sound, but at frequencies far below the level of hearing.

External ear flaps are designed to direct sound into the auditory canal - and so we have the ability to detect the direction a sound is coming from because the brain is capable of detecting minor variations in loudness, and also phase changes between sound received by the two ears. You probably know all this, but did you know that some of the sound we hear is transmitted to the inner ear through the physical body? If you go for a hearing test, you will have a tuning fork placed on your skull - to test for internal hearing - the transmission of sound through bone and fluid. High frequencies are "attenuated" (absorbed) far more than low frequencies, and so we can hear lower frequencies more easily in our ears by internal hearing - even if your external ear canals are blocked. Because the body is essentially a rubber bag filled with fluid, with a few rigid spacers in it (bones), it vibrates with all the sounds around it. It is interesting to speculate on the effect of this, since everything that vibrates has a resonant frequency - the frequency which it naturally would vibrate at if it had the choice - such as a tuning fork! At resonant frequencies, the vibrating object vibrates much more strongly (like singing in the bath - one particular note resonates in the room and so is much richer and louder) - try singing next to a guitar or a drum, and notice the effect of particular notes. As far as language goes, we hear the explosive sounds - b,d,t,ph (etc) first through the skin via the lateral line pressure sensors - the evolutionary throwbacks that link us to fish and life in the ocean. The ear is in fact a lateral line sensor modified through evolution - but we still have the rest, on the line of skin that divides fromt and back halves of the body.

At other (non-resonant) frequencies, the passive object (be it a tuning fork or a body cell) is trying to vibrate at its own resonant frequency, and so in effect it is constantly resisting the external (non-resonant) vibration. Your head has several resonant cavities - "sinuses" - between the eyebrows, in the cheeks, behind the ears, and in the sphenoid - high up beyond the back of the roof of the mouth. There are also major cavities in all of the torso, and fluid-filled elastic tubes (veins and arteries). At a cellular level the tensegrity structure of the cell favours particular vibratory patterns (as opposed to random motion or stillness). For safety's sake, these resonant patterns are not single frequency - if they were, half the audience at an opera would spontaneously explode! So our bodies are probably in some form of vibration most of the time. Cells and tissues also vibrate in response to outside vibrations (sounds), and we could potentially hear internal vibrations occurring if the inner ear becomes sensitive enough to detect them, and if they are in the audible frequency range (about 20Hz to 20,000Hz).

Large scale physical vibrations known in the human body are all very low frequency - the heart beat (less than 1.5Hz), the breath (less than 0.3Hz), the Lymphatic system (about 10Hz), the Craniosacral Rhythm (less than 0.1Hz). Yogic practitioners have been reported to generate a 7Hz aortic resonance, which precedes high (kHz+) frequency EM brainwaves.

I wonder what the effect of vibration has on living tissue - what happens when a part of the body is exposed to its resonant frequency? Because cells are small, they will tend to have a high resonant frequency, which may fall within the audible range. Sound has been used for healing for many millennia, and the effect of music on mood is well known. There is an interesting test based on "kinesiology" (the testing of immediate response muscle strength). Some types of music - particularly baroque classical (Bach, Pachabel, Mozart) - consistently strengthen tested muscles, whereas some styles of "pop", and most folk and country and western music consistently weaken muscle tests. The differences? Well, baroque music is mainly in the Major key, whereas much folk, country and modern music are in a Minor key. Major key music is often associated with happy feelings, and minor key with sad feelings, so the weak muscles could be purely due to emotional changes rather than vibrational resonance - but that's an interesting comment in itself - stronger when happy, weaker when sad. Another aspect of Baroque music is the fact that its top and base lines interweave, and so the left and right sides of the brain never have a chance to become dominant - they become equally active, and so the whole brain awakens. Creative throught then becomes far more easy, as does learning when you listen to Bach or Mozart.

Now lets try a little experiment - close your eyes, and sing a single vowel (the best one is AAAR, as in BAR) to a single note, loudly, and at the same time FEEL´┐Żinside your body. As you sing and focus your attention on a particular part of your body, you will feel the vibration of your voice inside you. You will notice that when your attention is particularly focussed in one place, it's almost as if the vibration becomes more. I have found that this is easiest in the midline of the body, but it is still possible to feel an effect in a hand or a foot. To compare, use the same intent of feeling when you're NOT singing, and you will notice a substantial difference. If you try focusing your attention on your vocal chords whilst singing, you will feel that they become harsh and feel raspy. It seems that the focussing of mental attention does somehow affect how sound moves in the body, and where the sound focuses. Opera singers are trained to focus their attention on the middle of their head (!) - if they focussed on their vocal chords all the time, they would damage their voices. As you experiment, you could even try altering the pitch to find which note has most effect on each part of your body. What you are sensing is not hearing - but is a sense of internal resonance and vibration. It has a very specific sensation, and I often experience it in a similar spectrum to the emotional feelings of excitement and anticipation.

To end this on a very different note, you might be interested in Chinese Qigong masters - people who have spent years cultivating internal energy so that they can use it (often for either martial arts or for healing). Experiments in China have shown that Qigong masters hands (!) emit subsonic sound waves when they are healing. The Chinese, being practical people, decided to test this observation by making a machine to emit the "same" ultrasound frequencies - just to see what the effect would be. This machine is now used extensively in China, and (interestingly) by about 5% of US doctors at time of writing (Feb 2000) - because it has a very substantial healing effect on soft tissues! So, in certain circumstances, our bodies are capable of generating sound in places other than the vocal chords (as Le Petomaine discovered!), and sensing sound in places other than the ears. This parallel functionality is found for all the other senses - some of them even more strongly than hearing!

7. Smell and all that jazz

Smell is one of the most primitive senses we have. The olofactory bulbs have a unique position relative to the brain and the other sensory nerves, and are deeply connected to our midbrains. Richard Feynman, the maverick physicist, once had a party trick of asking guests to enter the house and walk in an irregular pattern through the rooms whilst he was blindfolded. He would then crawl on the floor, sniffing, and accurately trace their footsteps from the front door. Our sense of smell is still far better than we think it is. I use my sense of smell to check for sugar in tea, and can detect as little as a quater teaspoonfull - without tasting. I once was handing out leaflets in Norwich. The leaflets had two small drops of essential oil wiped across the end of a stack of about 200 sheets, because this creates a subliminal interest (one of the tricks now used by many shops to attract customers!). Getting down to the last sheet and feeling a bit cheeky, I approached two policemen, and gave them the leaflet, and the youngest one suddenly went rigid, started to sniff, and found the source of the smell on the piece of paper - now there must be some wisdom in the phrase "having a nose for the job..."

If you use your nose, you will notice that there are several ways to breathe. There are three turbinates in the nasal cavity which create turbulence in the nose as the air passes them. If you sniff a lovely smell (such as a rose), you might observe that the intention of smelling will cause the air to be directed much higher in the nasal cavity - above the third turbinate - and so send more of it near to the olofactory bulbs . This creates a deliciously cool feeling behind the bridgeof the nose. It is also possible to deliberately intend to breathe into any of the sinuses mentioned previously - though I don't recommend it for any extended period of time. For most people, normal breathing doesn't pass the lowest turbinate, and so smells cannot be easily detected.

Now there's an interesting statistic about blocked sinuses - they correlate very strongly with impotence! And in the past few years a small organ has been found halfway up the nose, on the ethmoid (midline) plate where three sets of nerves converge, about halfway between the second and third turbinates - and this sensory organ very specifically detects phemerones. It doesn't exactly "smell" them, but it does detect their presence, and tell the (emotional) midbrain that phemerones are in the air. Of course, phemerones can tell us about how sexy someone is feeling, and have been used in experimental perfumes for some years now. They also can give information on mood, general health, aggressiveness and emotions, including the minor variations which can happen when we tell porkies. And if you ever could see the aura of scent surrounding each individual, you would see something like a candle flame (the hot air with phemerones etc) around a wick (the body). This information about the people around us is available to us all the time, and most of us just don't bother using it - the messenger has been told to lurk in the corner of the office.

One final word about breath - we breathe through our skin as well as through our nose, and this is vital in keeping the largest organ of your body (the skin) healthy. If you smother yourself in petroleum or lanolin-based creams, you're really not doing your skin very much of a favour. It is possible to mentally intend the breath to enter and leave anywhere, just like focussing sound, and with a little practice you can actually feel it moving. Whether this is a sensory illusion, or whether it actually has some effect on skin permeability I have no idea. However, you might find the following exercises very interesting and invigourating (try each one for a few minutes each)

8. The eyes have it...

We've already talked about inner vision (visualisation). The eyes themselves are absolutely extraordinary. They are actually parts of the brain which split off during the early stages of embryological development. Eyes work with two very different types of sight : Foveal vision - occupies the middle of our field of vision, and centre of focus, is in colour, and the nerve signals are sent to the vision area of the cortex via one relay station in the midbrain. This happens about 20 times every second, and is accompanied by small fast movements of the eye.

Peripheral vision - occupies the outside edge of your visual field, and is mainly in black and white. Runs at about 200 cycles per second, and hardwired direct to an intermediate vision interpretation/action centre in the midbrain, before being relayed to the visual cortex.

Foveal vision is what we usually think of as sight, because it captures what is directly in front of us. However, the area of vision captured by this is quite small, and is about the same diameter as a lightbulb seen one or two feet in front of the face. In order to see a complete panoramic view of the world, our eyes scan the area in front of us with small jerky movements, talking about 15 or 20 snapshots every second. These are combined by the brain, and the whole set of little snapshots is interpolated and interpreted to give a complete seamless picture, with the missing bits filled in. Hence the invisible tiger. If you expect to see chestnut horses, that's what you'll see. If you expect to see tigers, that's what you'll see. What is really there? How do you see an Angel?

So, we usually see what we expect to see. If we looked a bit closer, and more attentively, we might see a different reality, but our brain/mind's job is to give us a complete picture, and unless we actually train our eyes to see, the mind will fill in the gaps with whatever it expects to be there. The peripheral vision information is also included in this conglomerated picture - but remember, it's in black and white! The usefulness of peripheral vision becomes apparrent when you remember the speed at which it works - and it helps us to track and make sense of fast moving objects. It has another more urgent purpose, because it's not very long since we were sharing caves with sabretooth tigers (see the book Songlines by Bruce Chatwin). Small movements in the corner of the eye can mean food or death, and hence, the brain is hardwired to check out for small movements in this area of vision 10 times faster than the remainder of the visual system.

It's also worth remembering that danger is rarely at a distance, and so once the peripheral vision has detected a movement, it creates an adrenal/sympathetic (fight or flight) response, and the eye naturally focusses close-up. If you constantly use close-up vision, you're more likely to be stressed, because this forces your eyes to work with the sympathetic nervous system predominant (and so this increases the tonus of the sympathetic nerves as a whole) - see section on the Autonomic Nervous System. Similarly, people who have high stress are more likely to become short sighted, because their eyes naturally near-focus due to the adrenal/sympathetic overstimulation. All this suggests that both long and short vision may actually be correctable - by addressing the autonomic nervous sysem balance (for which craniosacral therapy is particularly effective). There are also Bates eye exercises - Bates was a brilliant optician whose eye correction exercises have been largely ignored - after all, it's much easier to buy glasses!

Before we leave the eyes, lets try another quick exercise. Allow yourself to stare softly at the wall (or whatever) in front of you, whilst at the same time feeling sensations in your body. If you register both sight and feeling equally, you will notice that your focus becomes more diffuse, and you start to become more aware of the periphery of your vision. You might also notice that you are far more relaxed, centred, and generally aware in this state. You have just produced a very useful altered state - the Hawaiians call it Hakalau , and its qualities of relaxed alertness make it ideal for meditation, martial arts, and just getting through the day in the easiest manner possible. The Hakalau state is one in which the Autonomic Nervous System is in balance.

In terms of the use of senses, we culturally tend to use eyes far more than the rest - and often stare with excess intensity. Another nice exercise you might like to try is lie down and close your eyes. Allow your eyeballs to relax and become rounder, the eye sockets to relax and become rounder, and the eyes to sink back comfortably in their sockets. Then allow the place where you look from to sink back through your head until it is at the back of your head. Rather than sending your eyes out to look for images, the intention is to allow images to come to your eyes. When you feel that your place of "looking from" has settled back and come to a quiet resting place at the back of your head, open your eyes, and look around you. You will probably already be in the Hakalau state. You can also practice this for every other sense - allowing the information to come to you, rather than going out to get it.

Another function of the eyes may be to transmit light to the third ventricle, to stimulate the pineal gland (the organ which controls the natural cycles of the body). Light may also enter through the other holes ("foramen") and joints ("sutures") of the skull, and even through the bones themselves, which are quite thin and mildly translucent when we are alive.

9. ... and the skin has it too!

Jean-Pierre Barral is an Osteopath teaching in Paris, who has carried out some wonderful research into temperature perception. He found that he could feel different temperatures when he ran his hand close to someones skin, and that's a much quicker way of diagnosing that touching everywhere (and also less invasive). If you feel heat in the air, it can only come to you in two ways - radiant heat (Infra Red radiation - see section on Light and EM), or convection (hot air rising). Since the heat was detectable in very specific areas from all directions, it is clearly radiant heat (infra-red). When he compared his hand sensitivity with a thermal scanner, he discovered that his hand was sensitive to changes in radiant infra-red temperature of as little as 0.001 degrees Centigrade. The high tech thermal infra-red scanner shown in the illustration has a resolution of only 0.1 degrees, and yet is considered to be "it" for hospital diagnosis....

Now if the hand can detect these subtle changes, what is it really measuring? The most obvious (intuitive) answer is "heat", but Infra-Red is actually a form of radiation, on the same electromagnetic spectrum as light, radio waves, x-rays and ultra violet. So the sensors on the skin are somehow picking up EM radiation. Now, if they can detect Infra-Red, maybe they can detect other ranges of the EM spectrum??

Researchers in Russia have investigated psychic phenomena far more intensively and rigorously that we have in the West. Some experiments on blind subjects found that - if they had become blind after birth, so had a mental understanding of colour - some could detect colour very easily with their skin.

Although this may sound strange, the teeth are actualy part of the nervous system, and so in some ways classify as skin. (To know the full connection, you need to be aware of a little embryology. When we develop form an egg, we go through a stage of being a smudge of three layers of cells. One of these layers becomes the digestive tract. Another becomes the musculoskeletal system, and the third layer becomes the skin and central nervous system. These three layers remain distinct throughout life, and one way of looking at the human body is that we are several animals living in a symbiotic relationship.) Back to teeth. Having trained in Geology, one useful piece of information I have picked up is that it is possible to use the teeth distinguish between particles down to 5 microns in diameter... This extraordinary capacity to detect microscopic variations can also be seen in any skilled work. One example that comes to mind is the gem miners of Sri Lanka. There we have inland mountains with many different types of gemstone, and over time these gems have been eroded out of their matrix rock and washed into gravel beds further towards the coast. A skilled miner can take a spade-full of gravel and wash it in such a way as to separate stones of very small differences in density - thus ending up with a handfull of small assorted gems. He can then run them through his fingers and using a combination of sight and touch separate out maybe eight or nine different types of gem in a few seconds - some feel slightly more soapy, some are sharper, etc etc. This is not some special genetic variation - but rather a degree of tactile skill that is trainable in anyone.

10. Electromagnetism

As each year comes and goes, it seems that scientific research finds even more about nature that we can marvel at. The migration of birds now seems to be guided by a sophisticated combination of magnetic sense and astronomy... In fact there is a modified cell in the eye of a Robin that is about 5x more sensitive to magnetic polarity than the most sensitive instrument man is currently capable of manufacturing. So, if birds have this sense, what abot other animals, or humans? Interestingly, there are human languages that are "geographic". So the speakers of these languages are capable of detacting absolute geographic direction all the time without even having to think about it, and would say "there is an ant just to the north of your foot" (rather than left, or behind). Agaim this is not a genetic inheritance of some odd mutant human, but rather a skill and natural ability that we all have, and through lack of use have just forgotten how to access. How would you sense direction? Because we just don;t use it, we have no concept of how this information would be passsed to our conscious mind form the sensory organs. I have been experimenting with this for some time, and although I can't claim to be totally consistent (because I still confuse myself with "known" visual markers and also sometimes flip by 180 degrees), most of the time I have a good sense of where the pole star is. Just practicing. It's a marvellous body we have been blessed with, and in many ways its potential has been ignored by scientific pronouncements as to what we are and are not capable of. It's well worth ignoring these and experimenting for yourself - after all, you have the "laboratory" already walking round with you 24/7.


John Davidson
Subtle Energy - Publ. CW Daniel
The Secret of the Creative Vacuum - Publ. CW Daniel
The Web of Life - Publ. CW Daniel

Lawrence Edwards
The Vortex of Life: Nature's patterns in space and time - Publ. Floris

Harry Oldfield & Roger Coghill
The Dark side of the Brain : Major discoveries in the use of Kirlian photography and electrocrystal therapy - Publ. Element

Roger Coghill
Electropollution : How to protect yourself against it - Publ. Thorsons

Robert Becker & Gary Selden
The Body Electric : Electromagnetism and the foundation of life

©Andrew Cook
30th June 2000

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