Dichotomous Human Sensory Inputs
by Phillip A. Ross
“seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear” —Matthew 13:13
For millennia it has been thought that human beings have five senses—smell, hearing, sight, touch and taste. Each of these senses provides a portal through which information about the world is gained. Each sense provides information about the world to the brain or mind. As such, the senses are absolutely foundational with regard to our understanding of the world in which we live.
To lack any one of these senses is to be handicapped. A deficient sense, one either not working at all or working poorly, provides deficient information about the world. This is not to say that those who are blind or deaf, etc., are not fully human—they are! However, their experience and knowledge of the world is not as full and complete as it could be. Often those who are sense deprived in one area find that their other senses compensate by becoming more robust, delicate and sensitive. Nonetheless, the absence or loss of one of the our senses is like the misfiring of a cylinder in an automobile engine.
Each sense provides a certain kind of information about the world in which we live. And when all the senses work together they provide a robust understanding of ourselves and our environment. And conversely, the failure or degradation of any of our senses results in an impoverished understanding of ourselves and our world.
But why do we limit ourselves to five senses? Many people have suggested that we also have a sixth sense, which is akin to intuition. Because sensory inputs provide information about the world, and sometimes people know something, but don’t know why or how they know it, they propose that there is another human sense that provides such information. The sixth sense has long been a mystery to humanity, dismissed by some and embraced by others. The sixth sense is often spiritualized in that it is attributed to communication from another dimension. But whether one accepts it or denies it, it has never attained the canonized status of the other five senses. Most of the time, most people simply pay no attention to it. Or perhaps they engage it half consciously without recognizing its contribution to life and understanding.
In an effort to understand ourselves and the world in which we live more fully and completely, I am standing on the shoulders of Walter Lowen, who has posited a model of the human brain or mind structure that has eight sensory inputs. Lowen, an engineer by profession, found himself intrigued by the Meyers-Briggs Typological Interpretation (MBTI) of Jungian psychology, and developed a brain/mind schematic diagram in which the sixteen Meyers-Briggs types are explained from a logical/electrical perspective.
I will not reproduce Lowen’s work, but will attempt to provide a layman’s description and analysis of the eight sensory inputs posited by Lowen. In order to do so I have renamed some of the inputs or senses in order to make them more accessible to the layman.
Each of the senses I will define here are understood to provide input to the human mind or brain. They are always found in pairs that are dichotomously related. That is, they are envisioned as poles on a continuum of sensory input or experience. Each of the four types of senses manifest as two dichotomous but related sensory mechanisms.
In general Lowen’s work provides an interesting operative model of how the brain/mind/body perceives or receives sensory input. We must remember when dealing with such modeling that modeling itself is primarily a logical construct that tries to make sense of information. Such modeling regarding brain functioning puts a lot of stock in the idea that logic actually correlates to biological function and/or visa versa. However, in this case there is a good argument that such correlation should actually be the case, in that logic itself is a mental construct that provides accurate descriptions for many processes in the world at large. So, there may be sufficient basis to assume that logic itself is a linguistic projection of biological brain structure that adequately reveals significant mental or mind structure. To repeat, logic and language may provide a sufficient reflection and/or projection of the structures and/or functions of the brain. It makes sense that logic, language and brain structure or function will correlate.
I have taken the basic organization of Lowen’s insights about the eight senses and expanded and augmented them to fit more consistently into a dichotomous model. Why a dichotomous model? Because of the polar nature of Jungian psychology and MBTI typology, i.e., introversion vs. extroversion, thinking vs. feeling, sensate vs. intuitive and judging vs. perceiving. These basic type descriptions are not the eight senses, but they provide the logical structure for the senses. I have renamed and redefined some of the sensory categories of the various modes to establish a more functional labeling of them, and to maintain consistency, balance and harmony.
Each of the eight senses receives a flow of information and/or stimuli as information/data enters into the mind. As Lowen correctly observes, the direction of the information flow or sensory data is significant. It can be said that the direction of the flow is either introverted or extroverted depending on whether the flow is centripetal or centrifugal. Nonetheless, each of these four sense categories has an extroverted and an introverted pole. The nature and function of these poles will come to light in the discussion of each sensory input.
The eight sensory inputs, arranged in their dichotomous pairs, are:
- vision/imagination, and
Note that the traditional five senses are included and that three other brain/mind functions or sensing nodes are accounted for. This essential grouping is based upon the polarity of perception, where the poles may be described as extroverted and introverted. Perception and its attendant data flow faces either outward (extroverted) or inward (introverted). We perceive information about the objective world around us, and we perceive information about our own subjective bodies, which can in turn be understood to be objective to the brain or mind. Nonetheless, our perceptions of our own bodies are as real as our perceptions of our environment.
Touch is extroverted because it faces the exterior world, whereas taste is introverted because it faces the interior or subjective world of the body. Similarly, smell is extroverted because it faces the exterior or objective world. Intuition is introverted because it faces inward and provides essential subjective data. Vision or eyesight is extroverted and faces outward, whereas imagination is introverted and faces inward. Hearing listens outward to the world of sounds, where resonance listens inward to the world of thought harmonics.
To be a fully developed human being requires the development and maturity of each of our eight senses. Perhaps the lack of maturity and development of so many people is related to the fact that human growth and development of the fundamental interior sensory inputs are for the most part misunderstood and ignored.
IMMEDIATE SENSES: Sensing poles
Touch is on the objective side of the continuum in that it conveys information about the outermost body edges: the skin. The sense of touch provides objective information about the interface between the body and it’s immediate environment. On the other side of this immediate sense continuum we find the sense of taste. Taste is a subjective function of the tongue, an inner, subjective organ of the body. Taste is related to touch because in order to taste something it must touch the tongue. Taste senses certain environmental elements as they are in the process of assimilation, becoming part of the subjectivity of the body. Taste supplies information and/or stimuli that is a more internal, subjective experience of the environment. The differences between the objective and the subjective aspects of touch and taste are determined by the direction of the information flow. Touch faces outward and is objective, where taste faces inward and is subjective.
The immediate senses are intimately related to our most basic understanding of self. They help to distinguish the difference between self and other. These senses are at the boundary between the body and its environment. It is through the sense of touch that we are aware of the difference between ourselves, our bodies, and that which is other, the external world. It is through these immediate senses of touch and taste that we as babies (and adults) first come into contact and relationship with that which is other, whether that otherness is rocks and dirt, food and drink, or other people.
ACOUSTIC SENSES: Feeling poles
Audition is what we usually refer to as our sense of hearing. Auditory information and/or stimuli first stimulates the objective pole (audition) of the acoustic senses, in that the source of hearing normally comes from outside of the body. On the subjective side of the acoustic sense continuum is the sense of resonance, a kind of inner hearing that we usually refer to simply as thinking. Resonance is a subjective hearing of inner thought harmonics, the source of which is audition and, consequently, facilitates the human ability to communicate with language by provide deeper (broader, more complex) meanings through various resonating associations with other thoughts (words, ideas, etc.). Language, which is first heard by a child, then, becomes a kind of mental harmonic manipulation, akin to music. The harmonics generate an inner, subjective mental linguistic flow, a flow that runs in the same circuits as Lowen’s information transactions. We might say that resonance provides the data for the common experience of hearing or thinking, an inner dialog or running commentary on one’s experience as one thing resonates with another.
VISUAL SENSES: Thinking poles
The objective pole of vision is similar to that of audition: it contacts and processes information from outside the body. The sense of eyesight is well established. But there is also an inner seeing which I call imagination. Unlike resonance, which is related to the feeling (F) poles, imagination is related to the thinking (T) poles. It could be commonly described as insight, inner vision, or simply imagination—the kind that children develop as they learn to play. Imagination, then, is the experience of the comprehension and association of ideas and images. Imagination is engaged as a person who learns something exclaims, “Now I see!” The thing learned is imagined or grasped in its wholeness.
REMOTE SENSES: Judging poles
The remote senses, related to judgment, or what Lowen calls the intuition (N) poles, and involve the transmission and/or manipulation of diffuse information through remembrance. Smell, the objective remote sense, is the easiest to understand. An odor is diffuse and our sense of smell receives and compares that received data with our memory of similar data (similar smells). The experience of smell can be activated from quite a distance if the sense is significantly developed. The sense of smell conjures up a memory of the smell, or if it is a new smell it catalogs the smell for later use.
The subjective remote sense, intuition, works in a similar way. Unlike resonance, which is primarily word oriented, or imagination, which primarily associates mental images or pictures, intuition compares data received with memory. It perceives information from the comparison of experience and memory, thereby producing essential meaning. Intuition is the sense that experiences meaning as essence and feature derived from the association of ideas, images and language.
Earlier I said that each of the senses has an extroverted or introverted information flow. I mean that all of the objective (touch, audition, vision, and smell) and subjective (taste, resonance, imagination and intuition) senses can be either acute or obtuse. That is, they have input connections in both of Lowen’s C and D circuits. The circuit is a function of the focus of the information transaction: obtuse (C) or acute (D).
In order to understand Lowen’s circuits we might think of them as water passing through a nozzle. The C circuit is obtuse in the same way that a nozzle on a hose sprays water obtusely, where the pattern of the spray is wider than the circumference of the nozzle. Attention in the C circuit is on the outside or extroverted side of the nozzle and is experienced obtusely.
The D circuit is acute. Here we must imagine that the direction of the water flow is reversed, where the water of the spray is now being sucked into the hose, something like what a vacuum cleaner does to air. Attention in the D circuit is on the inside or introverted side of the hose and is experienced acutely.
The C circuit experiences information generally. We could even say that the C circuit senses impose general order upon experience. It sprays, imposes or broadcasts various presuppositions upon its experience of the world in the sense of providing a context for understanding. Nothing is experienced or understood as a brute fact. Rather, all experience and understanding require a context in order to be meaningful. In the C circuit, that context precedes experience.
In the D circuit the context is derived from the experience in that experience precedes context. It must be understood that every person has and uses both circuits of each sensory input, and that the circuits provide a kind of tension between opposing ways of understanding and experiencing the world.
There is a tension between experiencing the world in order to know it, and knowing the world in order to experience it. For instance, sometimes people see what they expect to see rather than seeing what is actually in front of them. Similarly, people hear what they expect to hear rather than hearing what is actually said. To touch or taste something with an expectation provides a different experience than touching or tasting without an expectation. Human knowledge and/or experience requires both context and analysis or categorization.
Working from Lowen’s sixteen pole model let’s specify poles, transactions and circuits, and try to unpack some of what it all means.
The sense of touch is experienced in both the C and D circuits; that is, it’s information can be either acute or obtuse. Each circuit will, of course, yield a different experience (information transaction) related to touch. The information transaction of sense in the C circuit results in a general body awareness. The experience is unfocused, obtuse, unpointed. When someone asks, “How are you feeling?” they are generally inquiring about your experience of the sense of obtuse touch. The early signs of illnesses like a cold or the flu usually affect this sense, and it is here that we experience a contextual body malaise or dis-ease.
The experience of touch in the D circuit is quite different. Touch in the D circuit is primarily a tactile awareness of environmental edges. This is usually the experience that people identify as physically touching something. We usually think of the experience as touching something particular—soft, hard, wet, dry, etc. The information transaction is acute, and is experienced as a particular feeling associated with a particular body part, i.e., a hand or finger through the skin. When we identify a particular touch experience we utilize the D circuit, which is experienced as focused, acute, particular. To feel the edge of a knife as sharp or a feather as soft is a function of acute touch.
The sense of taste is also experienced in both the C and D circuits. In general, taste is a more subtle experience than touch. However, the experience of C circuit taste generates information about the overall effect of taste combinations. Taste experienced obtusely results in an unfocused lack of appreciation for the experience of eating. There is no identification of the particular elements of taste, i.e., sweet, sour, bitter, etc. Rather, taste is processed generically as appealing or unappealing. People who are C types eat only to live. They generally don’t care as much about food or how it tastes as does a D type.
The experience of taste in the D circuit provides an acute appreciation of the subtleties of taste. To have a developed D circuit taste is to be a connoisseur, to have great taste appreciation and sensitivity, even to the point of being finicky. In other words, the sense of taste can be either focused or unfocused.
Hearing also can be focused (D) or unfocused (C). When we are reading a book we often hear noise without listening to it, which is an experience of audition in the obtuse C circuit. Conversely, in a crowed room at a party we are able to focus on one voice and listen to one conversation in the midst of many, which is an experience of the acute D circuit audition. Without the ability to focus our hearing we couldn’t do this. Most people have experienced both types of hearing.
I have defined resonance as an introverted, subjective experience that develops with language and is experienced as thinking, or an inner voice or dialog. Resonance is not commonly understood as a sense, but I believe it is. Most people will know it as “common sense,” a voice or inner dialog that provides life direction. Christians know it as a personal relationship with Christ. Paul recommended that we “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). One definition of resonance involves a relationship of mutual understanding or trust and agreement between people.
When a single string on a stringed instrument is plucked it vibrates using the physical ends of the string as poles and produces a tone. What we don’t hear unless we listen very carefully is that the other strings on the instrument are also vibrating and producing various related tones. The other strings are vibrating at various tones known as thirds, fifths, octaves, etc. The wave lengths of these tones are shorter than the dominant tone and are called harmonics. The other strings resonate harmonically with the dominate tone. I am suggesting that the fact of our subjective thinking process results from similar harmonic processes within the resonance sense (thinking). While we are thinking a dominant thought there are other harmonic thoughts resonating harmonically to the dominate thought.
The development of language provides a kind of sense experience for the mind. We usually call it thinking. When we think a thought it is like plucking a single string on a stringed instrument, which sets in motion harmonic vibrations in the other strings. Intuition, then, is a perception of the harmonics of thinking.
A map of the sense inputs that provide sense experience to the mind:
VISCERAL SENSES: Sensing (S) poles
A map of the acoustic inputs that provide auditory experience to the mind:
A map of the visual inputs that provide visual experience to the mind:
A map of the intuitive inputs that provide intuitive experience to the mind:
 Dichotomies of the Mind: A Systematic Explanation of Human Behavior, by Walter Lowen, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1982.
(c) 1989, reproduced in The True Mystery of The Mystical Presence.