Science

You Have More Than Five Senses

A sixth sense? That's child's play. Researchers have estimated that humans have anywhere between nine and 21 senses in total.

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What This Means

To determine how many senses humans actually have, you simply need to count how many different sensors there are. For example, the tiny hairs in your inner ear are sound sensors. Seems simple enough. But your ears also have sensors for orientation and balance, as anyone who's gotten dizzy from an ear infection can attest. Your eyes have two different types of light sensors, and your skin has at least five types of sensors, including those for heat, cold, pressure, itch, and pain. Thirst and hunger can also be considered senses.

Some of these sensors work together to create what could be considered one major sense. For example, the balance sensors in your inner ear work with the light sensors in your eyes to tell you where you are in space in a sense known as equilibrioception. Sensors in your skin, joints, and muscles, likewise, work together to create proprioception, or your sense of where your body parts are at any given moment.

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Why You Should Care

Because, without knowing it, you've been spreading a 2,000 year old myth. The person credited with starting the rumor that humans have five senses is none other than ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. While most scientific theories from ancient Greece have long been updated, this one has stuck around in the popular consciousness. So feel free to tell your friends you have a twelfth sense—then set them straight when they're surprised.

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You Have More Than 10 Senses

Find out how you really interact with the world.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Pain and itch have their own receptor systems, separate from that of touch. 00:39

  2. Magnetoreception tells birds and dogs which direction is north. 02:37

  3. Humans, and children in particular, seem to have an innate sense of time. 03:37

3 Senses You Didn't Know You Had

Psychic ability? Nope, equilibrioception.

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How You Taste And Smell

The two work together to give you a richer experience of the world.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. All of our senses involve sensory cells that translate stimuli into action potentials, a process called transduction. 00:56

  2. Scientists estimate that humans can identify about 10,000 different smells. 04:39

  3. All tastes register on all parts of the tongue—there are no specialized areas for specific flavors. 07:06

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