The Senses

The Mind obtains its impressions of objects of the outside world by means of the brain and sense organs. The sensory organs are the instruments of the Mind, as is also the brain and the entire nervous system. By means of the nerves, and the brain, the Mind makes use of the sensory organs in order that it may obtain information regarding external objects.

The senses are usually said to consist of five different forms, viz., sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.

The Yogis teach that there are higher senses, undeveloped, or comparatively so, in the majority of the race, but toward the unfoldment of which the race is tending. But we shall not touch upon these latent senses in this lesson, as they belong to another phase of the subject. In addition to the five senses above enumerated, some physiologists and psychologists have held that there were several others in evidence. For instance, the sense by which the inner organs revealed their presence and condition, The muscular system reports to the mind through some sense that is not that of “touch,” although closely allied to it. And the feelings of hunger, thirst, etc., seem to come to us through an unnamed sense.

Bernstein has distinguished between the five senses and the one just referred to as follows: “The characteristic distinction between these common sensations and the sensations of the senses is that by the latter we gain knowledge of the occurrences and objects which belong to the external world (and which sensations we refer to external objects), whilst by the former we only feel conditions of our own body.”

A sensation is the internal, mental conception, resulting from an external object or fact exciting the sense organs and nerves, and the brain, thus making the mind “aware” of the external object or fact. As Bain has said, it is the “mental impression, feeling, or conscious state, resulting from the action of external things on some part of the body, called on that account, sensitive.”

Each channel of sense impressions has an organ, or organs, peculiarly adapted for the excitation of its substance by the particular kind of vibrations through which it receives impressions. The eye is most cunningly and carefully designed to receive the light-waves; and sound-waves produce no effect upon it. And, likewise, the delicate mechanism of the ear responds only to sound-waves; light-waves failing to register upon it. Each set of sensations is entirely different, and the organs and nerves designed to register each particular set are peculiarly adapted to their own special work. The organs of sense, including their special nervous systems, may be compared to a delicate instrument that the mind has fashioned for itself, that it may investigate, examine and obtain reports from the outside world.

We have become so accustomed to the workings of the senses that we take them as a “matter of course,” and fail to recognize them as the delicate and wonderful instruments that they are–designed and perfected by the mind for its own use. If we will think of the soul as designing, manufacturing and using these instruments, we may begin to understand their true relations to our lives, and, accordingly treat them with more respect and consideration.

We are in the habit of thinking that we are aware of all the sensations received by our mind. But this is very far from being correct. The unconscious regions of the mind are incomparably larger than the small conscious area that we generally think of when we say “my mind.” In future lessons we shall proceed to consider this wonderful area, and examine what is to be found there. Taine has well said, “There is going on within us a subterranean process of infinite extent; its products alone are known to us, and are only known to us in the mass. As to elements, and their elements, consciousness does not attain to them.

They are to sensations what secondary molecules and primitive molecules are to bodies. We get a glance here and there at obscure and infinite worlds extending beneath our distinct sensations. These are compounds and wholes. For their elements to be perceptible to consciousness, it is necessary for them to be added together, and so to acquire a certain bulk and to occupy a certain time, for if the group does not attain this bulk, and does not last this time, we observe no changes in our state. Nevertheless, though it escapes us, there is one.”

But we must postpone our consideration of this more than interesting phase of the subject, until some future lesson, when we shall take a trip into the regions of Mind, under and above Consciousness. And a most wonderful trip many of us will find it, too.

For the present, we must pay our attention to the channels by which the material for knowledge and thought enter our minds. For these sense impressions, coming to us from without, are indeed “material” upon which the mind works in order to manufacture the product called “Thought.”

This material we obtain through the channels of the senses, and then store in that wonderful storehouse, the Memory, from whence we bring out material from time to time, which we proceed to weave into the fabric of Thought. The skill of the worker depends upon his training, and his ability to select and combine the proper materials. And the acquiring of good materials to be stored up is an important part of the work.

A mind without stored-up material of impressions and experiences would be like a factory without material. The machinery would have nothing upon which to work, and the shop would be idle. As Helmholtz has said, “Apprehension by the senses supplies directly or indirectly, the material of all human knowledge, or at least the stimulus necessary to develop every inborn faculty of the mind.” And Herbert Spencer, has this to say of this phase of the subject, “It is almost a truism to say that in proportion to the numerousness of the objects that can be distinguished, and in proportion to the variety of coexistences and sequences that can be severally responded to, must be the number and rapidity and variety of the changes within the organism–must be the amount of vitality.”

A little reflection upon this subject will show us that the greater degree of exercise and training given the senses, the greater the degree of mental power and capability. As we store our mental storehouse with the materials to be manufactured into thought, so is the quality and quantity of the fabric produced.

It therefore behooves us to awaken from our “lazy” condition of mind, and to proceed to develop our organs of sense, and their attendant mechanism, as by doing so we increase our capacity for thought and knowledge.

Before passing to the exercises, however, it may be well to give a hasty passing glance at the several senses, and their peculiarities.