This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 04 table of contents.

Other Sensitivities

This list of odd sensory abilities—some verified, some speculative—does not begin to exhaust the possibilities. Athenstaedt and colleagues (1982) reported a "pyroelectric and piezoelectric sensor layer" in human skin that allows perception of tiny electric changes similar to those picked up by the electrodes of a lie detector. It is hard to imagine how this information might be used—lie detection by the laying on of hands?—but it is yet another "extra" input to the nervous system from sensors not included in the classic seven types.

How might odor perception influence intuition about someone?

Human odor sensitivity is more advanced than commonly acknowledged and might play a role in some of our intuitions. Diet affects body odor. Sex hormones change body odor. Disorders in biological systems are likely to change odors in the body or breath. Even if odors only correlate with a special condition, they still provide useful predictive information. They could be the basis of intuitions about the health of another person.

Recall that one olfactory system is totally unconscious: the vomeronasal system. Yet it provides information that the human brain might use. A nice essay about the vomeronasal organ as a potential "sixth sense" was posted on the web by a Bryn Mawr student, Jason Bernstein at this URL: (It is still there as of 2007, eight years after being posted. That is unusual; web sites associated with undergraduate coursework often disappear quickly.)

Ordinary senses can also supply information that escapes conscious attention. For example, the sound of someone's breathing is plainly audible in a quiet room. It is also true that diminished vital capacity (the amount of air you can keep in your lungs) is an accurate predictor of coming death. The underlying reasons are complex: for example, common disorders like congestive heart failure reduce lung capacity. However, we do not need to understand the reason for the correlation, or even be aware of the correlation, to use the information as the basis for an intuition. Detection of shallow breathing—or a hundred other clues to ill health—could be the basis for accurate premonitions of death or illness.

How can unconscious knowledge affect decisions?

Carl Jung described intuition as unconscious knowledge. There is far too much activity in the nervous system for us to represent all of it in conscious experience. Hunches and intuitions may result in decision-making abilities that emerge into consciousness but defy analysis. Indeed, this was the implication of research on implicit or unconscious learning, described in Chapter 3. Subjects were able to sense patterns that they could not consciously describe or name. This type of ability is unconscious but by no means supernatural. It is the type of explanation most psychologists favor, in explaining what non-scientists often call psychic abilities.

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey