Last night I was having a discussion with a well-meaning hippie friend of mine. Actually, I should say I was being discussed-at: He felt it was a discussion, but really it was just a torrent of barely-strung-together bumper sticker aphorisms all pertaining to religion and stuff, and I couldn‘t get a word in edgewise. Ordinarily I’m game to discuss religion - I find it endlessly interesting, and I’m *certainly* not going to speak ill of anyone trying to explore their numinous side - but I generally shy away from discussing it with new agey hippie types.
“Why,” you ask? “Isn’t their opinion as good as anyone else? How dare you besmirch the honor of a person who likes to sit on the ground in a circle and hum! How dare you say that isn’t good enough with your squaresyille concepts of ‘God’!”
Well, it’s not that their view isn’t *valid*, at least in a very rudimentary sense. The most basic article of faith (As per Battlestar Galactica) is “This is not all that I am.” Everyone starts at that same point, so, yeah, listening to “Song for the Harmonic Convergence” by Yes is as valid a starting point as finding a Gideon’s Bible in the nightstand and starting to read it, or picking up a book on Shinto, or whatever. No, what bugs me about the New Agey types is that they generally don’t seem to progress too far from that first realization that they’re more than meat in the shape of a monkey. As a result, frustrations arise when you try to discuss difficult theological concepts with them because they don’t have the vocabulary to really understand what you’re talking about, and I don’t have the subcultural background to make sense of their own experiences. It’s a quandary, one that requires a lot of patience on my part with little pay off. In fact, If I say to my friend, “Ah, what you’re talking about here is the question of existence. Meister Eckhart once said…” or “That’s interesting. You know, the Gnostics had a similar theory which I’ve always found rewarding when they wrote…” or whatever - and I invariably get told to shut up because my “Hopelessly Repressive” religious understanding is trying to put the things they “know” to be true in little boxes and thereby diminish them.
That’s right, despite the fact that I’m quoting heretics who might even agree with them in an effort to further conversation and understand, I get shot down by people who’ve never even heard of the heretics, and assume I must be talking about like a Baptist Preacher or something.
It’s inherent in the angle you attack a problem from, I think. As with any esoteric complicated subject - Architecture, Medicine, Law, Medieval French Poetry, whatever - it requires a lot of attention and discipline to really get good at it, to recognize the good stuff from the crap, and to really get the full reward for your own efforts, be it in *making* the stuff, or simply appreciating it. And ultimately this requires a fairly substantial vocabulary to convey concepts unique to that particular area of study. Anyone can say, “Ug, me like building. It purty.” It takes a bit more effort to say “I love the way they’ve extended the edges of the niches out beyond the actual walls, since they’re using positive space to imply a much greater negative space than is actually available in the structure. It’s a clever use of finite area to make the place look much bigger on the inside than the outside without resorting to cheap tricks like foreshortening.”
And in my experience - which I admit is limited - I notice that New Agey types aren’t generally interested in expending this effort and discipline to develop this. Thus, while their initial spiritual instincts are as valid as anyone elses, it never goes much further than that, and we just end up with endless claptrap about “Energy” and “Fields” and “Vibrations” and all the random detritus about reincarnation, lost civilizations that never existed in the first place, pilfering ceremonies from cultures we’ve devastated and cast off to die, and sitting around drinking tea. Not even good tea.
Dunno why this is. Obviously there’s a market for it. My hunch is that it’s for people who feel the need to feel something larger than themselves, but don’t like to be told to change their ways, clean up their act, stop being such a kneebiter, or go volunteer time in soup kitchens, which, let’s face it, is a major part of *EVERY* established religion. If the first article of faith is “This is not all that I am,” then the SECOND article of faith is, “You are not good enough. Please try harder.” As a result, the New Age attempts at enlightenment and spiritual growth are like a vine without a trellis to grow in. It just sprawls along the ground, never aspiring to much and being sort of a nuisance. And on top of that, the vine on the ground invariably accuses the vine with some structure of being ‘fascist’ and ‘closed-minded’ and so on, despite never bothering to put in the required reading and thinking to be able to discuss intelligently on the subject.
Which brings me to my point:
My friend buttonholed me last night, and eventually started rambling on about the sixth sense, “Which, as we know, is the spiritual sense which is associated with psychic phenomenon.”
“Why?” I said.
“Why does the sixth sense have to be psychic?”
“What else would it be?” He said.
“It could be anything, it doesn’t *HAVE* to be psychic,” I explained.
“No, there’s only five senses and then there’s the psychic one.”
“There’s more than five physical senses. You’re assuming that since you, yourself, only have five that’s all there are. That’s like someone born blind denying that sight exists.”
“I have six senses,” he said.
“Right, sorry, forgot. Be that as it may, there are more than five physical senses,” I continued.
“Name one,” he challenged.
“Ok, I said, first off we’ve got -
5) hearing, you’re with me so far, right?”
“Of course,” he said.
“After that, just off the top of my head, we’ve got:
6) the ability to sense magnetic waves. Some turtles and birds have this, maybe some fish, too.
7) The ability to perceive the infra-red spectrum. Some insects have this ability through organs other than their eyes, so it’s not a form of ‘sight’
8) Dogs and cats have a sense that’s sort of half-way between taste and smell - they have an extra organ in their noses that let them essentially taste the air, without ever putting anything in their mouths.
9) Sonar/echolocation, as per bats and dolphins
I’m sure there’s more senses than that, but that’s just off the top of my head. Pattern Recognition might fit. Oh, and although I think it can probably be adequately explained through mundane means, if you’ve absolutely *got* to have some paranormal hoo-hah going on, I’d be willing to accept “Empathy” as a sense - the ability to remotely discern the mood and outlook of a person or animal without actually *being* that person or animal. You could use that as your ‘mental powers’ sense without having to get in to the whole ‘telepathy’ thing.”
My friend was, of course, flabbergasted at this. He admitted he’d never heard of any of these senses, then said they didn’t exist, then tried to argue they were all “Part of the psychic sixth sense,” thereby trying to suggest that insects have a magical ability to perceive UV radiation. It became apparent that he was so locked in to the idea of a non-physical sense - and the number ‘6’, to which he’d added a whole bunch of numerological nonsense - that he couldn’t apprehend a real-world idea because it didn’t fit in to his concept of the supernatural universe.
Which frankly sounds quite a lot the Catholic Church giving Galileo grief for discovering the Galilean moons, which didn’t fit in to arcane astrological theory. And yet my friend is calling me closed-minded for this. Which is why I tend to try and avoid these kinds of discussions.
Ah well. Such is life.
So, anyway, that got me thinking:
1) What other mundane, non-psychic “Sixth Senses” can you guys think up?
2) This is a hotbed for short stories: If people suddenly started evolving a sixth sense to, say, always find magnetic north, or taste food from outside restaraunts, how would it affect society? How would we get along with aliens who had these abilities? How hard would it be to get along on an alien world when you can’t read the alien’s signs because they’re all in UV? There’s fun stuff here.
So, my little culture warriors: your homework assignment for the week is to go home and write yourself a short story involving a mundane, non-psychic sixth sense. Send ‘em to me when you’re done, and if they’re any good at all, we’ll run ‘em on the site!