It is commonly said (to children) that we have five senses: taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing. The term "sixth sense" refers to something supernatural. But we do have more senses. Balance, for example, is as tangible as the other senses. More importantly we sense thoughts that organize other senses in space, time and meaning. And emotions. Is there a complete list of the senses?

Does the idea of five senses have ancient roots? Or, since they are selected to be informative about the external objective world, are they the child of the breakthrough of science and engineering since Newton?

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    $\begingroup$ Wikipedia has an article on this, Five Wits. The idea goes back to Aristotle and solidified around the time of Shakespeare. In addition to five outward wits (senses) there were five "inward" ones: common sense, imagination, fantasy, judgement and memory. Wikipedia also has "full" modern list of senses, including pain and balance. $\endgroup$ – Conifold May 8 '17 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting. Good things were obviously thought to come in fives in the past, as it is also traditionally said that taste has five components when we now know there are more. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jan 12 '18 at 21:36

It goes back at least to Aristotle's De Anima, Book II, ch. 7-11 (these five chapters being respectively devoted to sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch). This is perhaps where it started, since Aristotle was an incorrigible cataloguer of all human experience, be it either sensory or intellectual.

That there are no more than five senses was subsequently argued by Aristotle in the beginning of Book III.

Perhaps it is also interesting to notice that in Buddhist psychology, there are not the five senses, but there are the six saḷāyatana, which comprise the five 'Aristotelian' senses as well as "mind", whose sense objects include thoughts, feelings, etc. See the page for Ayatana on Wikipedia.


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