Chapter 1

Human Senses

A sense is a physiological capacity of organisms that provides data for perception. In vertebrates, the nervous system consists of two main parts, the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS consists of the brain and the spinal cord. The PNS consists mainly of nerves, which are enclosed bundles of the long bers or axons, which connect the CNS to every other part of the body. The sensory nervous system is the part of the nervous system responsible for processing sensory information. A sensory system consists of sensory neurons (including the sensory receptor cells), neural pathways, and parts of the brain involved in sensory perception. The ve traditionally recognized sensory systems are those for sight (vision), hearing (audition), taste (gustation), smell (olfaction), and touch (somatosensation).The ability to detect other stimuli beyond those governed by these most broadly recognized senses also exists; it includes sensory modalities having to do with temperature (thermoception), kinesthetic sense (proprioception), pain (nociception), balance (equilibrioception), vibration (mechanoreception), and various internal stimuli—e.g., the different chemoreceptors for detecting salt and carbon dioxide concentrations in the blood, or sense of hunger and sense of thirst. However, what constitutes a sense is a matter of some debate, leading to difficulties in defining exactly what a distinct sense is, and where the borders between responses to related stimuli lie. Buddhism and other Indian epistemologies identify six "senses" as opposed to the West’s identification of five. In Buddhism, "mind" denotes an internal sense organ that interacts with sense objects, which include sense impressions, feelings, perceptions, and volition. This addition to the commonly acknowledged senses may arise from the psychological orientation involved in Buddhist thought and practice. The mind considered alone is seen as the principal gateway to a spectrum of phenomena that differ from the physical sense data. This way of viewing the human sense system indicates the importance of internal sources of sensation and perception that complements our experience of the external world. From this perspective, then, there are six pairs of sense organs/sense objects:

  • eye and visible objects
  • ear and sound
  • nose and odor
  • tongue and taste
  • body and touch
  • mind and mental objects


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