Mass Spectrometry & Spectroscopy

  • Could Science Unlock a Sixth Sense?

Could Science Unlock a Sixth Sense?

Jan 13 2019 Read 895 Times

It's a widely accepted fact that humans have five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and sound. Now, scientists are predicting that 2019 could see new senses added to the human inventory. Advanced technologies could be used to wire data streams directly to the brain and allow humans to experience the world through an entirely new lens.

The concept builds on the idea that while the brain is responsible for relaying messages of sight, smell, taste, touch and sound, the reality is that the organ is enclosed within the skull and doesn't directly experience these senses. Instead, voltage spikes in brain cells are used to relay messages like the delicious taste of baked bread, the air-compression waves of a live music concert, the pain of a bee sting or patterns of light filtering through tree branches.

Unravelling the mysteries of the five senses

This has prompted neuroscientists to ask themselves why taste feels different from vision or touch, and why the beauty of a sunset would never be confused with the taste of fish and chips or the smell of fresh coffee. It's also sparked interest into why the “visual cortex” is often overrun by senses like touch and sound when people go blind.

Scientists have developed a hypothesis theorising that the internal subjective experience of a sense - a term known as qualia – is defined by the basic structure of the data. Put simply, information relayed by the two-dimensional retina sheet is fundamentally different from data processed by the one-dimensional eardrum or the multidimensional receptors of the fingertips. As a result, all five senses have their own unique feel.

Tapping into the human brain

The addition of new senses would be achieved by feeding a new data stream directly into the brain to trigger an entirely new qualia. This will be done either by implanting electrodes into the brain or ideally, using wearable devices to non-invasively trigger signals. Subjects could be anything from real-time stock market updates to the emotions of a loved one.

While it's hard to imagine, scientists compare it to discovering a new colour or hearing a novel sound that's impossible to describe. Ultimately, the only way to gain an understanding of a new sense will be to experience the qualia firsthand.

In some contexts, it can be necessary to omit senses like touch. For a closer look at how science is being used to heighten health and safety within professions like the police, military and fire and rescue services, don't miss 'Determining Hazardous Substances at Arm’s Length.'

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