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Seventh sense

Yellow skyWhen I was a little kid I used to wonder if we all perceived colours identically. Maybe we all saw the same colour very differently, and we just labeled it identically. For example, we would both say the sky was blue, but maybe your blue looked like my yellow.

I used to lie on my back and look at the sky and try to figure out how we could know for sure if we were all seeing the same colour, not just the colour we called the same word.

I came to the conclusion that only blind people could be objective about colours. I then invited an imaginary wise old blind man into my daydream and I described my versions of various colours to him.

It was an interesting exercise but inconclusive. It would have worked better if I’d had a real blind person to bounce these things off, or if I could have invited a real friend into my daydream to describe her version of blue to my imaginary blind man.

I was reminded of this today because I was thinking about food. How do we know that we taste the same flavours when we eat the same food? Maybe when you eat a banana you taste the flavour I call chocolate. We both call it banana and we both think we know what a banana tastes like, but who’s to say we’re tasting the same flavour?

After all, if everything tasted the same to all of us, why do some of us hate some flavours that others of us love?

It’s funny, now that I think of it, that I’m never surprised when someone likes a food that I don’t like, but it shocks me when people dislike the foods I love. How can you possibly hate coriander or raspberries or blue cheese or asparagus? Others, of course, are equally shocked that I dislike peanut butter and mushrooms and olives and most seafood. (My sister says I have immature taste buds, except for the blue cheese. Immature!)

A blind man wouldn’t be helpful in assessing whether we all taste flavours consistently. We need someone without tastebuds. But that was something else I thought about as a little kid. What would it be like to be lacking a sense that everybody else had? How could people describe it to you in a way that was meaningful? How would the world be different if almost everybody had another sense? How much of a disability would it be not to have that sense? How can you even imagine a sense?

Just as an exercise, see if you can imagine a new sense, in addition to touch, taste, smell, sight, sound and possibly the sixth sense of ESP? Can you imagine or make up a seventh sense?

(PS: Don’t forget to head over to the Elgin Street Irregulars for an update on AndrewZRX’s placenta.)


18 comments to Seventh sense

  • Greencolander

    I’ve always thought that balance was the sixth sense. I’ll have to think about a seventh. Hrm.

    And in regards to colour, I used to wonder about that as a kid as well. I’ll try to find the study which was discussed in one of my uni anthro classes. It proved that except for the colourblind, we humans do perceive colours the same way.

  • There’s this very neat “disorder” called synesthesia where people’s senses are kind of mixed up in their brain – they can taste colours or commonly individual sounds and words have colours, when these people get together and talk they don’t have the same colour for the same words.

    I wish I had this! I’ve watched a few documentary science shows on it and read a book on it and it is absolutely fascinating stuff. There is a blind man who has it – but he can still draw *in 3 point perspective* things he hasn’t “seen” with his eyes!

    I don’t think we experience colours the same way, and we know for instance that children see the colour purple much more clearly than older people do, why assume everyone experiences colour the same way?

  • greencolander

    Oh lordy, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I will have nightmares tonight.

  • Oh yeah and we have 12 senses if you are into Waldorf and/or the multiple intelligence philosophy: Touch, Life, Self-Movement, Balance, Smell, Taste, Sight, Temperature/Warmth, Hearing, Language, Concept, Ego.

    More fascinating stuff!

  • Have you seen The Truman Show? Good movie, and related to this, kind of. I used to think the same things about colours, but not tastes, but have about touches too.

  • I thought I was the only weird kid who thought about stuff like that! (Now, the only weird adult, I suppose.) How nice to see I’m not. I still wonder ’bout it, despite scientific studies and their results. After all, no one can do an experiment without affecting the results (just by the design of the test, the outcome is affected), so I retain some doubt that we can ever achieve absolute answers to these questions. Which is fine by me, ’cause I don’t want all the mysteries of the universe explained. Do you?

  • this is a little off-subject but two nights ago I stupidly ate an entire packet of wasabi peas and killed my taste buds for about 36 hours. it was horrible – even my favourite combination snack of grapes and chocolates tasted like cardboard

    warning: exercise caution with wasabi peas

  • XUP

    I think an interesting sense is the sense of humour. We immediately like people who have the same sense of humour as we do and instantly dislike people who seem to have no sense of humour or a really stupid sense of humour (but not stupid in a good way).Is this something we’re born with or develop depending on our environment? Are there things that are funny to almost everyone? Why do we cry when we laugh really hard? Why does laughing help us recover from illness & trauma? Why do we sometimes laugh at very non-funny things (funerals, tragedies, misfortune)??

  • chronic lurker here…

    I always wondered the same thing as a child, about colors, tastes, etc. Does everyone see the same thing or do we just call it the same thing? Most folks thought I was crazy, probably because I was finding it hard to describe clearly. As an adult, I can explain it better, so people understand what I’m getting at, but I think they still think I’m a little “out there”. Glad to hear I’m not alone!

    And I love the comments from XUP about the sense of humor. It is an interesting thing how we often flock to those with a like sense of humor.

    Anyhow, thanks for sharing this blog–it’s a fun spot in my day!

  • One of my good friends is color-blind. He doesn’t see green at all. He had no idea how bad it was until he took the test to try to become a pilot. He explains that he ‘sees’ green, like, he knows the difference between green grass and brown grass. But, now he knows that what he sees as green grass is really just ‘less brown’ vs. brown grass. The experience of seeing green isn’t different to him, though, because in his head that shade of brown is what he’s registering as green. He rarely confuses greens and browns (with everyday things, at least) because the shades of brown are different. That’s just crazy to me.

    If I had another sense, it would definitely be that magnetic sense that birds have. I have zero sense of direction, so I can’t fathom being able to tell where I am in the world at all times.

  • sheila

    A sense that we take for granted and possibly don’t even have a name for is what I think of as our sense of making sense. We are inundated with stimuli which we process continually. A normal infant starts learning how to input this data even before it is born. But I’ve read about people who were blind or deaf who had these senses restored to them surgically and these people did not know how to process the sensory input. They experienced distressingly random noise or fractured bits of light, shadow and color. Human intelligence is awesome in its mysterious complexity and as I work with people who are developmentally disabled, I’m reminded of what we take for granted.

  • Annie

    A number of years ago a life-long friend of mine suffered a brain aneurysm. Luckily she survived, but two of the side effects are that she no longer has a sense of taste or a sense of smell. She can’t tell the difference between porridge and curry. The loss of her sense of smell is a bit more serious though. She can’t smell food burning on the stove. She had no idea that her old Honda Civic had a leaking gas tank, and she’s a smoker. Fortunately, someone commented on the stench of gas fumes before she blew herself up!

    I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose senses that you’ve had all your life.

  • Kim

    When I was a kid I asked my mom if she thought everyone tasted everything the same way. She said no because then everyone would like the same stuff.

    Now even as a kid that seemed really strange to me, because that is like saying everyone would like the same furniture, the same perfumes, the same flowers, etc. To me, I just thought everyone tasted it the same, but just liked or didn’t.. personal preference.

  • janet

    That’s funny that “synesthesia” is now considered a disorder….I learned of it as a faculty that many artists have, and that was celebrated among modernist poets. Synesthesia is perhaps responsible for the weird poetic line “the sky is blue like an orange” (it’s from a French poem, if you’re wondering). In any case, I was just thinking synesthesially (?)the other day, that when people mistakenly call me Janice I always associate it with the colour purple, for some reason, but I don’t associate my own name with any particular colour…

  • MN_PJ

    I still wonder these things in middle age.

  • Gillian

    This is interesting, and I have little sense of taste (or smell). I can’t imagine another sense since I can’t even imagine what something tastes like. I can tell that A & B are not the same, and I can identify certain flavours/smells but I think my sensing of them fades faster than most people. I can’t imagine how flavours might combine and get a tasty result, so I can’t choose what to add to a dish, or invent something new.

  • I’m happily surprised that so many of you as children also wondered about this!

    Jill – welcome to the blog and thank you for de-lurking to say hi.

    XUP – I always think of humour as a form or dimension of intelligence, but it’s interesting that it’s referred to as a ‘sense’ of humour.

    Nursemyra – lay off those wasabi beans!

    Some of you are coming up with some pretty deep thoughts on this subject. Wow. I don’t even know what to say.

    Kim, that’s an interesting perspective, that everybody tastes or sees the same thing, but it’s adjudicated by personal preference.

    Janet, Mudmama,et al – About synesthesia – you know we’re all just one purple microdot away from experiencing it, right?

  • When my youngest was about 3, he called blue purple. I corrected him gently, “No, dear, that’s blue.” “It’s purple.” I painstakingly explained that color names are agreed upon, arbitrary, true, but agreed upon, so this is what we call “blue.” “You call it blue, I’ll call it purple.”