Sunday, June 10, 2007

Do people really have a sixth sense?

Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch: these are the five senses that Aristotle (Arastoo in Hindi) named more than 2000 years ago. But modern scientists recognize several others, including the perception of pain, heat, and cold, and a sense that few of us are aware we have - proprioception. The name from the Latin proprius ("one's own") and recipere ("to receive"), was coined early in the 20th century by British Nobel Prize-winning physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington. He called proprioception "our secret sense, our sixth sense."

Also known as kinesthesis, this sense is vital to your awareness of your own body, reporting where you are in space and where your arms, legs, head, and other body parts are in relation to one another. Thanks to proprioception, you can touch your nose when blindfolded, and bring your fingers together behind your back with unerring precision.

Proprioception is basic to your sense of your physical self. Yet much of the time it is unconscious. Your brain is "on automatic pilot," constantly scanning signals from your body to check for errors in alignment and coordination. For example, even when you stand in one place you always sway slightly from side to side. When the movements are too wide, proprioceptive signals alert your brain, which tells your muscles to make adjustments.

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