Watch the very funny clip above and then read the below.
I love Steven Fry, but this is a bit of a trick question. Maybe that’s the point of this show, I’ve never seen it. The clip is hilarious, but possibly a disservice to viewers as saying “there are 21 senses” is a pretty controversial remark.
I don’t disagree that we have other senses besides the five taught to us in grade school, but 21? Where did that number come from? I can’t find it anywhere.
The things that we are taught in grade school are often wrong, of course. I’m not a big fan of this practice, but I’ve never tried to be a grade school teacher. But there is something special about the five senses as we know them.
The five senses are not the five senses, they are the five sensing organs that provide information about our world. Skin tells us about temperature, solidity, roughness, etc, of items we touch. Our mouths tell us something about the chemicals in the things we put in it. Our nose senses chemicals in our air. Our ears tell us about the noises around us. Eyes let us see the world.
So, no, we don’t have five senses. But we do have five sensing organs that tell us about the world around us.
There are certainly more sensing organs. There’s the inner-ear that tells us if we are balanced. There’s our bladder, telling us if we have to pee and our stomach telling us that we need to eat. There’s a little nub on the back of our brain that tells us when oxygen is dangerously low in our blood and tells us to breathe or panic.
But these sensing organs do not tell us about the world, they tell us about our bodies. Only the five sensing organs that we traditionally know as the five senses do that.
Another interesting and important lesson I learned while making my video to the aliens. I had never realized this, but each of these five sensing organs plays a fundamental role in communication, courtship, and in love. To hear each other, to smell eachother, to touch, feel and taste each other. To have skin touching skin, mouths touching mouths, and more than anything, to look into each other’s eyes.
There’s a reason we call love sensual, and I had never considered this. Communication is about experiencing other people, and love is about experiencing another person as fully as you can, which is why we get our mouths and noses involved when that’s otherwise pretty uncouth.
So while “we have five senses” may not be a true statement, there is a reason why those five senses are different from “fullness of the colon.” Those are a different sort of sense, and the difference is not trivial.