SO YOU WANNA’ BE A WRITER: “Why stop at the Sixth Sense? There’s so many more….”

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

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 -
1) Touch
2) Taste
3) Sight
4) Smell
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!



charged words

neorandomizer's picture

Psychic is such a charged word it tends to corrupt any attempt to have a rational discussion about it. I like what the military calls it; anomalous human abilities, now have that in a paper people might actually read it. Now there is some good evidence that there are psychic abilities the now declassified Stargate program showed that remote viewing worked 20% of the time with trained personal. It was not good enough to keep the program going and now since the nut jobs have gotten into remote viewing business it is hard for some people to take seriously.
DARPA takes this stuff seriously to the point of having a program to develop computer aided telepathy see

But to answer your question intuition is the best candidate for a sixth sense, be it from the subconscious processing sensory info and coming to a concussion or it being some basic psychic ability it is real. All people have it, some more than others and some will use it more to make decisions but what it is no one has a good theory yet.

Psychic hoo-hah

Republibot 3.0's picture

Personally, I flat out don't believe in Psychic phenomenae. I used to, when I was much younger and didn't have ways to explain stuff, but having since become a great fan of Harry Houdini, and known a few psychics personally, I've concluded that they're all con men or crazy people. (In fact, we had a 'reformed psychic' who came though my church lecturing on the dangers of the occult in the early 80s, and he conned us out of a lot of money) I knew this woman who's a professional psychic, and she actually believes she is. At her wedding she sent her kid out to buy more beer, and of course he got in a head-on car accident on the way back from the liquor store. (He was fine, the car was trashed, though, and of course the beer was too shaken up to be safely opened for hours)

Now riddle me this, Batman: What kind of rum psychic *can't* forsee her own kid getting in a head on car accident at her own wedding?

Intuition is interesting. I don't think it's a psychic phenomenon, though. Some people are just more subconsiously perceptive than others, and they're better at tying these subconsious cues together than other people are. Why are some people better at this than others? I dunno, they just are. Why do some people have better eyesight than others? People with better intuitive abilities are probably more survivable than ones who can't recognize there's something unusual about that Hannibal Lectre guy.

That's an interesting link! Thank you! I know the Soviets were doing all kinds of Psychic Research - particularly in the area of weather control, oddly enough - during the Cold War. I'm given to understand that they had absolutely no success with it, but they said they were amazingly successful for propaganda purposes.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

what's in a name

neorandomizer's picture

The car crash story is a good one and points to a belief I have that if someone claims to be Psychic their not. Not in the way they claim anyway, the con man and nut jobs have defined what Psychic is for so long that it has totally corrupted the idea and has slowed and even destroyed what little research there is on the subject. As for telling the future I think it's akin to knowing the location of an electron in its orbit, we know that's imposable because it functions in a way we can not fully understand so we see its location as a probability. The same for seeing the future probability theory shows the impossibility of seeing it, because there is no one possible future till it happens because there are to many little random events that effect the final outcome.
Call it Psychic ability, anomalous human abilities or a Jedi mind trick there is experimental evidence that there is something beyond the five known human senses. The human mind and brain is so complex we still have not come up with a good working theory of consciousness and brain function. Something is paranormal until someone discovers the cause and effect, remember magnetism was once thought to be magic.

An interesting link:


wolf's picture

I'm tempted to argue that the ability to sense in infrared could be an extension of sight considering sight is based on the visible light section of the EM spectrum and infrared is merely a step down on the same spectrum. I've often wondered what it would be like to be able to "see" in the entire spectrum from Radio to Gamma rays, for my limited mind I'm sure it would seem rather cluttered.

@ Neorandomizer

Republibot 3.0's picture

Well, I totally agree that we haven't come close to understanding what the brain is or how it works, or even what conciousness itself is, but I think it's somewhat like a stringed instrument. You've got strings that can sound individually or together. Get three strings sounding together and you've got a chord which sounds like none of the strings by themselves, it's a new thing. Likewise, you've got 5 unquestioned human senses, but just like playing a guitar, it's sometimes hard to find the actual chords, and you're more likely to end up with just random noise than something else, so I would imagine that most people never develop more than the rudimentary interpretation of their senses.

However, if someone's got the knack, it's possible that they can combine their sensory inputs in such a way as to make - for lack of a better word - sensory "Chords" that seem like more than the sum of their parts, or perhaps seem entirely different from the sum of their parts. I got the idea from reading about people with Synthesesia - a cross-wiring of sensory inputs - people who hear colors and see smells, etc.

Larry Niven did some interesting things with Psychic abilities in Known Space. Ever read any of that?

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

@ Wolf

Republibot 3.0's picture

A very valid point, thank you! In the case of birds, who can see UV using their eyes, and in the case of rattlesnakes, who can see IR using their eyes, I'd agree that it's not a different sense, merely a variation of organs that are already there. In the case of insects, though, they're not using their eyes to 'see' the additional spectrum stuff, they've just got specialized receptor cells here and there on their bodies that aren't patched in to thier optical system, as I understand it. In that case, I'd argue that it *is* an additional sense, but I'll be the first person to admit it's a line-judge call either way.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

known space

neorandomizer's picture

it's been years since i read any of the ARM or Beowulf Shaeffer stories read Fleet of Worlds not to long ago. I should reread some of that stuff. I remember reading Border Land of SOL in Analog when i was a kid.