Our body acts as a sensory input device that allows us to understand the world. Our theory of mind is informed by sensory experiences. Feeling and thinking happens once these experiences have been processed.
There lies another difficulty to understanding the unique sensory experience of a child. What we understand as being the senses alters significantly our understanding of health and what we understand as the senses is culturally and socially regulated. These influences regulate we can accept as a sensory experience, and, depending on what is acknowledged as a sensory experience, it is more or less accepted as a valid sensory experience and instead considered a pathology. Part of the difficulty is that defining the senses themselves can be controversial.
Besides the five senses we are accustomed to: smell, sight, taste, hearing and touch, the scientific community now acknowledges others. There is an internal sense known as interoception (Craig, 2003)[i]. This refers to “any sense that is normally stimulated from within the body”(Dunn et al, 2010)[ii], for instance, sensing the subtle activities of our organs, blood flow, or energy within the body. According to the article Medical Mystery Surrounding Highly-Sensitive Kids … Solved? (Shelly, 2010)[iii], we have additional kinesthetic senses: the sense of balance and coordinated movement (the vestibular system), and the positioning sense (the proprioceptive system). These senses allow us to know where we are in space and to move effortlessly and smoothly.
Pain is recognized as a sense, and spatial communication specific senses have also been acknowledged: sense of time, and sense of temperature (Ascott, 2010)[iv]. These allow us to sense airborne signatures, such as magnetic or other kinds of energy fields. Personal sensitivity and cultural learning influence how aware we are of these senses. For instance, as we saw earlier, the idea that energy can be felt is not common in the western world. However, energy reading is common in Asian culture and central to asian health and cultural understanding of being.
Some researchers are beginning to demonstrate that empathic and social senses are crucial to human societies (Kovács, Téglás and Endress, 2010)[v] . These are particularly important to how a highly sensitive child perceives the world. For many highly sensitive children, suppressing empathy is unhealthy and can lead to illness, while for neurotypical individuals it allows a further separation between the rational and intuitive self, the later having been pathologized.
If space is filled with hidden fields of energy, people also have an energetic influence on each other. We know that living things produce magnetic fields and we have known for decades that animals have a magnetoception sense[vi], which allows an organism to detect a magnetic field to perceive direction, altitude or location. For the purpose of navigation, magnetoception deals with the detection of the Earth’s magnetic field, it has been observed in bacteria, in invertebrates, and vertebrates including birds, turtles, sharks and stingrays. Yet, Magnetoception in humans is still considered controversial in some scientific circles.
Magnetoreception is hard to study. Quoted in the article “Humans have a magnetic sensor in our eyes, but can we detect magnetic fields?”, researcher Thorsten Ritz says, “Basic things that you do in other senses don’t make sense when it comes to magnetoreception. Almost every other sense is linked to an opening in bone structure – eyes, ears and so on. The magnetic sense could sit anywhere in the body because the magnetic field penetrates the body.” And to complicate matters, we are unsure about what a magnetic sense would be used for.
Nevertheless, some groups of scientists suppose that not only it exists, but that it is central to how we communicate. As early at 1967, scientist knew the heart produces a magnetic field[vii]. In the 1980s, Robin Baker from the University of Manchester carried out a series of experiments, which seemed to show that humans could sense magnetic fields (Baker, 1980)[viii]. His work was disputed but he did establish that we do somehow use magnetic fields.
More recently, Rollin McCraty, Director of Research at the Institute of HeartMath, established that our heart is a sensory organ to a type of bioelectromagnetic communication. The heart, like the brain, generates a powerful electromagnetic field, McCraty explains in article “The heart generates the largest electromagnetic field in the body.”[ix] HeartMath studies show this powerful electromagnetic field can be detected and measured several feet away from a person’s body and between two individuals in close proximity.
In a HeartMath study, “The Electricity of Touch: Detection and Measurement of Cardiac Energy Exchange Between People”[x], researchers set out to determine whether the heart’s electromagnetic field in one individual could be detected and measured in another person when the pair either were seated within about three feet of each other or held hands. The results were positive: The data showed “when people touch or are in proximity, a transference of the electromagnetic energy produced by the heart occurs,”[xi]. The figure below illustrates the heart electromagnetic fields.
Figure 7 Heart Electromagnetic Fields
Image Source: HeartMath
If we consider the skin as a major sensory organ, the purpose of magnetoreception begins to make more sense. If we consider that the skin senses all subtle forms of energy and can inform our being of what is around us, magneto reception could be the communication tool used to translate this data. While in animals this sense is understood to be a navigational tool, could it be that in humans it also serves to inform of danger emanating from the environment and other beings?
Some researchers, such as Johnjoe McFadden, go as far as to posit that consciousness exist in electromagnetic fields. McFadden’s “Electromagnetic Field Theory of Consciousness”[xii] suggests that consciousness represents a stream of information passing through the brain’s Electromagnetic field. Were this to be ever proven, electromagnetic fields would become recognized as another form of spatial communication as it would suggest that, not only do we generate Em fields, our consciousness is intertwined in these fields.
What the research findings mentioned above suggest, is that there is an invisible communication system that we are not aware of but that does influence us. If we can adapt to the idea that the senses are attuned to spatial communication, E. T. Halls’ model of social space, explored in chapter 5, changes. When this sensorial language is a heightened ability, the boundaries of personal space changes for each individual, probably extending its range from a distance of about 12ft to 24 ft.
While these ideas can seem farfetched, for a parent, this can be useful a useful idea in considering what invisible sensorial communication input may be affecting a child. Whether we accept that the senses can be a more complex system of communication than demonstrated at this time may influence our ability to help highly sensitive children.
As researchers continue to study the senses, it is very probable that more senses will be discovered. But if our cultural and social norms do not accept the existence of these senses, experiences associated with a heightened reaction to them could be understood as an illness, or a sign of rebellion when reactions or behaviours do not correspond to what is expected in a given context.
A Fluid Spectrum of Potential Senses
Many scientists and authors have already established the complexity of our multisensory life to be much more elaborate than we think or that scientific data suggest. Guy Murchie, for example, in his book The Seven Mysteries of Life[xiii], enumerated 32 forms of sensing, which he assigned into 5 major categories: the radiation senses; the feeling senses (including proprioception); the chemical senses; the mental senses and the spiritual senses. As he wrote:
“A lot of people seem to think there can be none but the five traditional senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. In a way they are right, I suppose, if you assume that only the ones most obvious to humans are to be included. But surely there are more senses in Heaven and Earth than you or I have dreamed of. And I have increasingly had the feeling that the time has come when someone should pioneer into the subject as a whole with a fresh, untrammeled outlook. So, out of more than idle curiosity, I’ve jotted down a list of all I could think of and it came to 48, not even counting the “stage-in-space sense” previously described. Then, by combining the most closely related ones, I trimmed the number to 32. Of course a lot depends on how one defines a sense, and on arbitrary choices, like whether you decide to lump the sense of warmth and coolness or the sense of dryness and dampness in with the sense of feeling, and whether you want to include the senses (or are they instincts?) that animals, plants and (conceivably) rocks have but most humans evidently don’t.
Building upon Murchie’s work, others, such as Dr. M. Cohen[xiv] have identified more natural senses. The table below combines the two (the bolded items are Cohen’s contribution).
The Radiation Senses
- Sense of light and sight, including polarized light.
2. Sense of seeing without eyes such as heliotropism or the sun sense of plants.
3. Sense of color.
4. Sense of moods and identities attached to colors.
5. Sense of awareness of one’s own visibility or invisibility and consequent camouflaging.
6. Sensitivity to radiation other than visible light including radio waves, X rays, etc.
7. Sense of Temperature and temperature change.
8. Sense of season including ability to insulate, hibernate and winter sleep.
9. Electromagnetic sense and polarity which includes the ability to generate current (as in the nervous system and brain waves) or other energies.
The Feeling Senses
- Hearing including resonance, vibrations, sonar and ultrasonic frequencies.
11. Awareness of pressure, particularly underground, underwater, and to wind and air.
12. Sensitivity to gravity.
13. The sense of excretion for waste elimination and protection from enemies.
14. Feel, particularly touch on the skin.
15. Sense of weight, gravity and balance.
16. Space or proximity sense.
17. Coriolus sense or awareness of effects of the rotation of the Earth.
18. Sense of motion. Body movement sensations and sense of mobility.
The Chemical Senses
- Smell with and beyond the nose.
20. Taste with and beyond the tongue.
21. Appetite or hunger for food, water and air.
22. Hunting, killing or food obtaining urges.
23. Humidity sense including thirst, evaporation control and the acumen to find water or evade a flood.
24. Hormonal sense, as to pheromones and other chemical stimuli.
The Mental Senses
- Pain, external and internal.
26. Mental or spiritual distress.
27. Sense of fear, dread of injury, death or attack.
(25-27 are attractions to seek additional natural attractions in order to support and strengthen well-being. Attractions to run for your life.)
28. Procreative urges including sex awareness, courting, love, mating, paternity and raising young.
29. Sense of play, sport, humor, pleasure and laughter.
30. Sense of physical place, navigation senses including detailed awareness of land and seascapes, of the positions of the sun, moon and stars.
31. Sense of time and rhythm.
32. Sense of electromagnetic fields.
33. Sense of weather changes.
34. Sense of emotional place, of community, belonging, support, trust and thankfulness.
35. Sense of self including friendship, companionship, and power.
36. Domineering and territorial sense.
37. Colonizing sense including compassion and receptive awareness of one’s fellow creatures, sometimes to the degree of being absorbed into a superorganism.
38. Horticultural sense and the ability to cultivate crops, as is done by ants that grow fungus, by fungus who farm algae, or birds that leave food to attract their prey.
39. Language and articulation sense, used to express feelings and convey information in every medium from the bees’ dance to human literature.
40. Sense of humility, appreciation, ethics.
41. Senses of form and design.
42. Sense of reason, including memory and the capacity for logic and science.
43. Sense of mind and consciousness.
44. Intuition or subconscious deduction.
45. Aesthetic sense, including creativity and appreciation of beauty, music, literature, form, design and drama.
46. Psychic capacity such as foreknowledge, clairvoyance, clairaudience, psychokinesis, astral projection and possibly certain animal instincts and plant sensitivities.
47. Sense of biological and astral time, awareness of past, present and future events.
48. The capacity to hypnotize other creatures.
49. Relaxation and sleep including dreaming, meditation, brain wave awareness.
50. Sense of pupation including cocoon building and metamorphosis.
51. Sense of excessive stress and capitulation.
52. Sense of survival by joining a more established organism.
The Spiritual Senses
53. Spiritual sense, including conscience, capacity for sublime love, ecstasy, a sense of sin, profound sorrow and sacrifice.
54. Sense of unity, of natural attraction aliveness as the singular essence/spirit and source of all our other senses (NNIAAL).
These different approaches to the senses can make our work as parents very difficult. Connecting a sensory sensitivity to a “non” typical sense can make a discussion with health professionals, who do know acknowledge its existence, difficult. Nonetheless, it is important to constantly remind ourselves that how a highly sensitive child process this information is atypical and often defies cultural norms and to be open to explore a sensory spectrum that is not always recognized as real.
Given that a sensory sensitivity can overwhelmed the individual and prevent that person from navigating the other dimensions of beings, a child’s unique sensory processing characteristics must be understood prior to the other elements of health. Similarly to an individual who can not hear or see will have a much different perception of reality than someone who does, children with heightened senses will not interact with the world in a “normalized” fashion but in a sensory fashion.
Thus, our health model includes the senses as a dimension between the environment and how the body is going to react to sensory input. As is shown in the figure below, the environment and identity of a person is filtered through the senses that will convert sensory inputs into sensory messages that the brain processes to engage either the cognitive or emotive aspect of the mind. From these processes a particular perception of reality will arise. If we can understand which sense is involved in the process of overstimulating a highly sensitive child, we can then alter the environment to reduce sensory the overload.
Figure 8 Sensory Experiences
Thankfully some research is beginning to document how differently a highly sensitive person processes sensory information. For instance, according to the research of Jagiellowicz and his group, highly sensitive people process visual images in more depth than others. In their case, images are transformed into thoughts about those images when the brain associates the images with input from other senses, as well as with emotional reactions. This research found that when highly sensitive people looked at visual scenes, they showed significantly greater activation in brain areas involved in associating visual input with other input to the brain and with visual attention (i.e., right claustrum; left occipito-temporal; bilateral temporal, medial, and posterior parietal regions). These areas are not simply used for vision itself, but for a deeper processing of input. Such research suggests that what makes some people sensitive is a difference in what is going on at a deep level of processing[xv].
This deeper level of sensory processing can perceive subtle visual information others cannot see such as human emitted light. Researchers have discovered that we are subtle light sources. According to Japanese researchers[xvi], the human body literally glimmers. But the intensity of the light emitted by the body is 1000 times lower than the sensitivity of our naked eyes. Ultraweak photon emission is known as the energy released as light through the changes in energy metabolism. The researchers successfully imaged the diurnal change of this ultraweak photon emission with an improved highly sensitive imaging system using cryogenic charge-coupled device (CCD) camera. The researchers found the body glow rose and fell over the day, with its lowest point at 10 a.m. and its peak at 4 p.m., dropping gradually after that. These findings suggest there is light emission linked to our body clocks, most likely due to how our metabolic rhythms fluctuate over the course of the day.
In addition, other researchers[xvii] have demonstrated the existence of spontaneous and visible light-induced ultraweak photon emission from freshly isolated whole eye, lens, vitreous humor, and retina samples from rats. This research shows that the mammalian eye itself actually emits light – biophotons – which contain energy and information (wave-particle complementary of light), capable of transforming our understanding of one another, and ourselves. A friend of mine can see this subtle light around people and she explained to me that it changes based on their mood. For example, she recognizes anger as having a specific color.
This deeper level of processing is going to greatly influence a highly sensitive child’s sense of reality and behaviour, particularly if the child doesn’t have the language nor understanding to decode this sensory input into a coherent sensory message. When this light emits toxic messages, a highly sensitive child will be affected at much deeper levels than we think and potentially create major stress.
Researchers also know that extraocular light impacts human brain functioning[xviii]. Light also affects cells. A few studies have reported that cells use photons (light) as information carriers and a cellular communication system based on light (Fels, 2009) exists. And this system can affect our body at a cellular level, our mind and our sense of other. Such research is essential in helping understand what is triggering over or understimulation in highly sensitive children. Given their heightened sensory processing capacity, toxic input can affect them at the core of their being, mentally, physically, or at a cellular level, changing their body towards sickness.
Thus helping highly sensitive children does not only entail focusing solely on their person, the quadrivia approach “first-person” perspective. Given their heightened empathy and sensing of subtle energy, it is important to consider the sensory quality of their social experiences and what they perceive from the “second-person” perspective. As we will see next.
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[ii] Dunn BD, Galton HC, Morgan R, et al. (December 2010). “Listening to your heart. How interoception shapes emotion experience and intuitive decision making”. Psychol Sci 21 (12): 1835–44.
[iii] Shelly, Maureen (2010). “Medical Mystery Surrounding Highly-Sensitive Kids … Solved?”parentdish.com. Aug 25th 2010.
[iv] Ascott, Roy (2010). SYNCRETIC ART AND THE TECHNOETIC MIND. http://www.artefeed.com.br/inicio.php?Fuseaction=Comentaristas&ContentID=30&ComID=15
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[viii] Baker, Robin (1980). A sense of Magnetism. New Scientist 18 Sep 1980.
[ix] McCraty, Rollin(2004). The Energetic Heart: Bioelectromagnetic Communication Within and Between People in Clinical Applications of Bioelectromagnetic Medicine, edited by P. J. Rosch and M. S. Markov. New York: Marcel Dekker, 2004: 541-562.
[x] McCraty, Rollin, Atkinson, Mike, Tomasino, Dana, B.A., and Tiller, William A (1998). The Electricity of Touch: Detection and Measurement of Cardiac Energy Exchange Between People
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[xi] McCraty, Rollin(2004). The Energetic Heart: Bioelectromagnetic Communication Within and Between People in Clinical Applications of Bioelectromagnetic Medicine, edited by P. J. Rosch and M. S. Markov. New York: Marcel Dekker, 2004: 541-562.
[xii] Johnjoe McFadden (2002). “The Conscious Electromagnetic Information (Cemi) Field Theory: The Hard Problem Made Easy?”. Journal of Consciousness Studies 9 (8): 45–60.
[xiii] Murchie, Guy (1978). The Seven Mysteries of Life, An Exploration in Science & Philosophy. 1978, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
[xv] Jagiellowicz, J., Xu, X., Aron, A., Aron, E., Cao, G., Feng, T., & Weng, X. (2010) The trait of sensory processing sensitivity and neural responses to changes in visual scenes. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 6, 38-47.
[xvi] Kobayashi M, Kikuchi D, Okamura H (2009) Imaging of Ultraweak Spontaneous Photon Emission from Human Body Displaying Diurnal Rhythm. PLoS ONE 4(7): e6256. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006256
[xvii] Chao Wang, István Bókkon, Jiapei Dai, István Antal (2011). Spontaneous and visible light-induced ultraweak photon emission from rat eyes. Brain Res. 2011 Jan 19 ;1369:1-9. Epub 2010 Oct 26. PMID: 21034725
[xviii] Sun L, Peräkylä J, Kovalainen A, Ogawa KH, Karhunen PJ, Hartikainen KM (2016) Human Brain Reacts to Transcranial Extraocular Light. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0149525. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0149525