Besides the five basic senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) there is also, for example, the sense of balance. While it may seem that this one is not really about perceiving the external world (as opposed to one's own body), there are cases where it is. E.g., on the inside of a ship with no windows, I can use my sense of balance to detect how strong the waves are. Or I can use it to detect a mild earthquake.

But if we go this route, what if I say that I can use my spring allergies to sense pollen in the air -- does that count as a sense? Taking that further, I could even sense large doses of radiation, since those would make me sick. Maybe there's an argument to be made that in those cases I'm just using other senses to detect something; it is not a separate sense. Then again, in the pollen case, my immune system plays an important role in the detection, and yet we don't typically think of it as part of a sense. Another example is caffeinated vs decaf coffee; I may not be able to taste the difference, but I can detect it based on the effect it has on my brain -- is that a sense?

Going even further: Does part of my brain "sense" mathematical truths?

Is there a clear definition of what constitutes a sense? Does it require a particular type of conscious experience? Or is there a clear definition based purely on biology?

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    It has nothing to do with "conscious experience", senses are active even when one is asleep or unconscious. Human body has a multitude of sensory systems, see e.g. Wikipedia's Sense. The five (or six) commonly mentioned by name are just the top five by the amount of sensory information received (Aristotle also named "common sense", which did not mean what it means today). This question is better suited for Biology SE. – Conifold Apr 6 at 23:37
  • In terms of "sensing mathematical truths", the more pertinent question may be what conceptual and perceptual functions the brain has, since mathematics anyway is just a system of abstract rules, and what is mathematically true is simply that which follows the rules. – Steve Apr 6 at 23:52
  • @Conifold please see my response to niels nielsen below – present Apr 7 at 19:31

When a neurophysiologist talks about the different senses, (s)he means the different neural systems which communicate information about one's environment to the brain, per Conifold's comments above.

In your case of pollen allergies, the nerve endings in your nasal cavity pick up the chemical signal from the surface of the pollen grains and that triggers a series of physiological responses from your body- so this does at least technically count as a "sense".

In the case of your sense of balance, the nerve endings in your limb muscles tell your brain what position your limbs are in as they are pulled on by gravity (this is called proprioception) and your brain uses those signals to figure out where "up" and "down" are.

Is it possible to have a "sense" of mathematical truth? For most of us this comes from training and experience. For mathematical geniuses, it may present as a "sense"; all I can say about that "sense" is that it is something that I lack, despite years of training and experience.

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  • Thanks for the response. Here is another example (also added to the question): caffeinated vs decaf coffee; I may not be able to taste the difference, but I can detect it based on the effect it has on my brain -- is that a sense? In this case it seems the only "neural system" involved is the brain itself. Another example is that hormones communicate to the brain, so why should what we consider to be senses be restricted to the nervous system? (I guess that's why this is a philosophy question rather than a biology question...) – present Apr 7 at 19:30

For perception of the world outside, the organs we see outside / the organs itself would not be enough. There are other things which are essential for perception of the world outside. Since the route is through our eyes, even while we are viewing the inside of something, or the parts of eyes/brain with our eyes, the perception is about the world outside.

This link ( https://www.hinduwebsite.com/senses.asp ) might help you to get more detail regarding this.

So a biology-definition would be insufficient for defining senses in its true aspect.

Does part of my brain "sense" mathematical truths?

We can reach a conclusion by analyzing the question itself. If there is a separate part for mathematical truths, there must be another part for philosophical truths and another for mixed subjects and other subjects...I mean, a subject-vice division in the brain. So if there is a part for this, it is for all.

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