"I have eight other senses; but I'd give them all up, even smision, just to experience taste."One way to make an alien creature seem bizarre to human audiences is to have it detect the world around it with a different array of biological senses than us. Often they're depicted as using sensory mechanisms found in other Earth species, such as echolocation, thermographic vision, or sensitivity to electrical impulses or vibrations. More rarely, writers will equip aliens with biological versions of radar or other technological sensors, or they'll invent senses that discern esoteric forces such as psychic energy. Senses that are found in we humans are often absent or much-reduced in beings equipped with bizarre alien senses. On film, this trope may be depicted with Point of View shots using image-distorting or false-color effects. Most commonly seen in Science Fiction, but occasionally in other Speculative Fiction genres. A subtrope of Bizarre Alien Biology, and supertrope to Mysterious Animal Senses. Frequently correlated with Eyeless Face. Contrast Blindfolded Vision, in which someone denied their normal eyesight relies on other sensory modes, or Super Senses, when normal human senses are enhanced. For a different sort of alien feeling, see Inhuman Emotion. When the bizarreness applies to the way the alien communicates, it's Starfish Language.
— Bender, Futurama
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- Martian Manhunter occasionally mentions having nine senses.
- In the "vegetable sex" scene from Saga of the Swamp Thing, Abigail temporarily experiences Swamp Thing's ability to sense life force, and perceives the wetlands as a shimmering field of glowing vegetation, dotted with bright life-sparks of animals.
- In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Edward Hyde can see people's body heat including Griffin's.
- Superman has all kinds of visions, not taking into account heat. X-Ray, microscopic, electromagnetic (at one point he states that he can see Wi-Fi networks as a series of overlapping clouds), soul (yeah, that's a thing now).
- Supergirl's Kryptonian senses don't care for puny laws of physics. She has at least half-dozen of kinds of super-vision (telescopic, microscopic, X-Ray...) as well as super-hearing.
- In Supergirl (Rebirth), Kara hears what is happening on Earth in real time while she is standing on the surface of the Sun. And she uses her microscopic vision on Lar-On to observe his genes and determine that his genetic makeup has been completely mangled by Red-K poisoning.
Supergirl: I can see his genes.
- In Supergirl (Rebirth), Kara hears what is happening on Earth in real time while she is standing on the surface of the Sun. And she uses her microscopic vision on Lar-On to observe his genes and determine that his genetic makeup has been completely mangled by Red-K poisoning.
- When the Jason Macendale version of the Hobgoblin, a Spider-Man villain, got turned into a demon, he noted that colors were all wrong.
- Spider-Man's Spider-Sense is sometimes portrayed as more like an actual sixth sense than a psychic impression (as in the trope of the same name). Apparently it tingles.
- The Sandlings of White Sand have some sort of "sand sense", and can apparently talk to it, although whether it's low-tech civillization's way of describing echolocation or something more bizarre remains to be seen.
- A Crown of Stars: The Avaloni Imperial Tribes have especial senses: Star Borns as Ching can feel when others are close and have aura-reading abilities, whereas Blood Borns can feel physical proximity.
- Advice and Trust: In chapter 7 Rei fights Zeruel. It is explored how she -an ancient alien goddess stuck inside the body of a human teenager- sees the world differently, how she senses everyone's A T Fields, their nature and their power, and during the battle she feels her Field and Zeruel's clashing, hers struggling uselessly against Zeruel's and Zeruel's menacing with eroding hers if her pressure ever lets up.
- Eternal Flowers: Seeing as Persocoms are considered another type of lifeform… the list includes sensing not only wifi and radio waves, but mircowaves and even magic as well.
- Last Child of Krypton: The story goes into great detail about how Shinji -who in this setting is Superman- sees the world in the entire electromagnetic spectrum.
- Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: Asuka's first hint that her senses were not normal either was when she accidentally saw through her home's walls... right when Shinji was changing clothes. Later she discovered her senses were exceptionally sharp and she had many different kinds of vision... including heat vision.
- In ''Walk Through the Valley'' by Vathara, the at least three species of animal on the Death World Satoyama can sense and generate EMPs. Through LEGO Genetics, Hiko and Kenshin gain this ability and then some.
- Ponies in the Triptych Continuum possess feel, which allows them to pick up on active magic use and lingering traces for the workings of their own race, along with helping them learn how new tricks can be done. Most ponies can improve the quality of this sense through practice, although a few seem to be stuck in the basement. It's presumed that the Princesses possess all three versions. She does as well, but only one at a time.
- In Revenge Of The Energy Vampire, Nos-4-A2 can sense energy.
- The ravenous flying beasts from Pitch Black use echolocation, which is depicted on-screen as textured pixel-clouds that take on the shapes of objects.
- In the Tremors franchise, Graboids pinpoint their prey using sound and other vibrations, while Shriekers and Ass-Blasters use heat vision that's enhanced by blasts of heat emanating from their mouths.
- The title aliens have near-infrared vision. This is depicted onscreen by coloring what they see based on the temperature of objects: black = cold, white = hot, and other colors in between.
- In the sequels, video games, and spinoff films, even this is thrown for a loop. When the Predators have reason to believe humans are using their vision's weaknesses against them, they reveal that their helmets have technology in them that gives them ''further'' forms of vision, such as sonar, backscatter x-ray, and some kind of metal detection. Given the characterization that Predators tend to receive, it rarely feels as arbitrary as it sounds.
- Wolfen was probably the first film to incorporate thermographic footage to represent this trope.
- The invaders from The Darkest Hour sense electricity. This means they can't see through glass.
- Men in Black 3: Griffin lives in 5 dimensions, which gives him a rather interesting view of time in general.
- In the film K-PAX, mental patient/possible alien "prot" (Kevin Spacey) is confirmed early on as being able to somehow detect infrared wavelengths of light.
- The Fly (1958): During The Reveal in which his wife pulls off his hood, Andre's P-O-V is briefly shown, and he sees dozens of simultaneous images of her screaming face through his fly-head's compound eyes.
- In Jaws: The Revenge, the shark-hunters disorient the great white using a device that confuses its electroreceptive sense.
- The "gorilla wolf" aliens from Attack the Block have no eyes, and are implied to perceive their surroundings by scent and echolocation.
- The Force Awakens: Steelpeckers, scavenging birds seen in the background of some Jakku scenes, use a magnetic sense to pinpoint the scrap metals they like to consume.
- Dracula Untold: Several POV shots from Vlad's perspective appear to merge both echolocation and thermographic vision, showing a forest's trees as vague gray silhouettes that sharpen into clarity with every ultrasound-burst, while glowing-red images of warm-bodied soldiers duck and weave among them.
- In Piers Anthony's Omnivore, the fungus-derived mantas use biological radar to "see" their surroundings.
- In Lords and Ladies, elves are sensitive to magnetic fields, thus explaining their aversion to iron which distorts and "blinds" such senses.
- Another Discworld example: golems, or at least Mr. Pump, are sensitive to something called "Karmic Signature", which Pump did not see fit to explain. They can also detect one another "singing" underground, through thousands of feet of soil.
- Angua's sense of smell when in her wolf shape verges on this trope, and she's usually forced to draw analogies to colors and sounds in her efforts to convey what it's like to non-werewolves.
- Inverted in Moving Pictures, when Gaspode complains about what a shock it was when his Holy Wood-induced newfound intelligence caused him to have dreams in color. The experience of Bizarre Human Senses was quite appalling to the little terrier-mix.
- Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth setting gives us the insectoid Thranx, who have a "Faz" sense granted by their antennae. Apparently, the antennae are sensitive to air currents.
- One novel includes scenes from the perspective of a thranx larva, who is baffled by the concepts of color vision and scent: senses that don't develop in thranx until adulthood and thus, seem like this trope to him.
- The Rigellians in the Lensman books use a bizarre sense that gives a worldview much like the best solid-modeling programs. They can even see things like the innermost components of shielded power reactors.
- The flip side of this is that they rely exclusively on that sense and lack both sight and hearing. In consequence, it's sheer torture for other species to spend time in their cities, because their cars have no windows, their buildings have no sources of light and they make no attempt whatsoever to avoid loud noises... a visit to Rigel therefore involves a great deal of sitting around in the dark being startled by loud bangs, screams and howls of various kinds.
- The Mad Scientist Travnicek in Wild Cards, after his infection due to Typhoid Croyd, develops a ring of unnatural, horn-like sensory organs around his neck.
- In the Dragaera novels, the tendrils on the necks of dragons are sensory structures that detect other creatures' psychic energies.
- The Lizards of World War can see a few colors in the infrared spectrum.
- The creators of the Descolada in Children of the Mind are also implied to have this.
- The Sphynxian Treecats of the Honor Harrington universe are telepathic and empathic, and are evidently unique in the universe in that trait.
- On Gor, the Priest-Kings are an alien insectoid race which "talk," "hear," and mostly "see" by scent, which they perceive via their antennae.
- In "Aftermath", a short story from The Dresden Files, the "turtlenecks" use sonar to navigate in the dark.
- Not quite a different sense, but the scene in White Night in which Harry, hiding from enemies in a large pitch-black room, is shown his surroundings by Lash using mentally-projected outlines of his environment somewhat resembles this trope. It gets particularly alien when he immediately loses 'sight' of an object he throws (because Lash can't tell where it is once he's stopped touching it).
- The aliens in Isaac Asimov's short story "The Secret Sense" are very sensitive to electric fields, but have comparatively weak hearing and color vision. The brain cells involved are present in humans but do not function. The story centers around a man who is temporarily given the ability to use this sense to experience the electromagnetic equivalent of a musical performance, but the process eventually kills the cells, depriving him of the secret sense permanently. The alien in the story demonstrates this because he wants the human to shut up and stop talking about Earth music.
- The extinct aliens in John Brunner's Total Eclipse were able to sense electric fields. A minor plot point is the protagonist reasoning that the aliens must have lived in constant terror of thunderstorms. He is therefore able to deduce that a bizarre bellows-like gizmo the archaeologists found must have been a device for predicting the weather.
- Kdatlyno from the Known Space Verse "see" via radar.
- In Perdido Street Station, the eyeless slake-moths can smell and taste the psychic energies of sentient creatures' dreams.
- Expedition: Sonar seems to be the primary sensory input for Darwin IV species.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe: Both Saba and Tesar Sabatyne can see in infrared, being Barabels.
- Togruta (like Shaak Ti and Ahsoka Tano) can sense their surroundings via some kind of passive echolocation.
- The Miraluka species are humanoids who lack conventional eyes, seeing entirely through The Force. They're mostly isolationist, but the ones who leave their homeworlds tend to end up with the Jedi in some form; either as Jedi themselves, or adjuncts in teaching or administrative positions. As a courtesy to non-Miraluka, they cover their EyelessFaces with hoods, masks, or bands.
- In the Hal Clement short story "Uncommon Sense", the alien creatures on an airless world see/smell through pinhole camera eyes. The molecules that escape from objects travel in straight lines, so they can be resolved into a meaningful image, which the beings "see". Does that volatile hunk of rare metal have a pungent odor—or a brilliant color?
- In the Animorphs series Andalites are said to have the ability to keep time perfectly and are able to tell cardinal directions. Also, according to Ax, their stalk eyes can see into the infrared spectrum.
- The Slan in Star Carrier: Deep Space see almost exclusively by echolocation. (They do have light-detecting organs, but they can only detect it: they can't really interpret it the way smarter Earth animals do.) This proves a disadvantage during space combat: hull breaches mean air leaks out of the ship, meaning the Slan can't see or communicate. It also means that they don't really understand the concept of "space". It took them a really long time to find out about the existence of stars, and only when they built photosensitive devices that translate visual images into understandable sounds. Despite being a space-faring race, they still perceive space as a really-really big cave with a few habitable "islands" (i.e. planets) scattered in it. They don't quite understand the technology they use, implying that someone gave it to them. When they first meet a human female face-to-face (sort of), their captain tries to use echolocation to figure out human organs. He's confused why the human sound-emitting organ (mouth) doesn't have the same flexibility as the Slan equivalents. He tries to find the sound-receiving organs and, ignoring the ears, settles on boobs (also noting they're not very flexible). When contacting Grey, the Slan captain assumes that Grey is blind because he lacks the "sound-receiving organs".
- According to some Star Trek Expanded Universe novels, Andorian antennae aren't just for show. They allow Andorians to have a limited "electro-vision", which is how an Andorian crewmember aboard the DS9 is able to detect a shrouded Jem'Hadar.
- The Spiders in Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky have a larger visible spectrum of light than humans, referring to infrared frequencies as "far-red" and ultraviolet as "far-blue". Human display technologies, designed only to display what we can see, look like simple and underdeveloped technology to them, despite our otherwise advanced capabilities. Some Spider dwellings also appear dark to us, due to being lit with light outside our visible spectrum. On one occasion, Spiders are also shown to be able to "hear" vibrations in the ground through their feet.
- The Endbringers in Worm perceive the world through their powers: Behemoth senses tremors, Leviathan senses water, and the Simurgh senses the past and future. Khonsu senses distortions in time, Bohu also senses tremors, and Tohu senses powers. It's implied that they have no senses beyond this, since their eyes (and pretty much everything else) are cosmetic. Also, Scion can sense everything around him through unknown means, and can see through the eyes of parahumans because they have his cells connected to them.
- In Stephen King's The Eyes of the Dragon, a chapter from the point of view of a dog explains its sense of smell by metaphor with colors (the scent of a friendly character he's tracking is described as an exciting electric blue) and sounds (comparing summertime, with many different smells, as a cacophony that makes it difficult to focus on any one scent compared to the relatively "quiet" wintertime). This latter is a misconception, incidentally; dogs, especially ones bred for tracking like this one, are far better at picking out a single scent out of many others than humans, and wouldn't lose track of a single significant scent any more than you or I would lose track of a single bright red thread woven through an otherwise white cloth.
- The Stormlight Archive: Windrunners like Kaladin have an ill-defined ability to sense wind currents, which is a passive ability separate from the more active Surges. Not only does this aid them in their Not Quite Flight, but it allows them to predict the flow of battle in ways other people cannot match. In the second book, this almost gets Kaladin killed in his first fight with Szeth. He lets his windsense guide his strikes, only to be taken completely off guard when Szeth easily counters his move. This implies that the Windrunner Honorblade that Szeth is using grants this same ability—or maybe Szeth is just that good.
- The Traitor Son Cycle: dragons have some form of magic-based sense that works akin to echolocation - their roars resonate through the ethereal, letting them detect their prey.
- Les Xipéhuz: While it's clear that the Xipéhuz percieve their environment, the protagonist never finds out how they do it, as they have no visible sensory organs and know about humans and other Xipéhuz even if there is something between them.
Live Action Television
- Daredevil: Matt Murdock sees "a world on fire", having lost the use of his eyes but gained a dozen other ways of seeing the world in shades of pressure and heat.
- In Alien Planet (an adaptation of Wayne Barlowe's Expedition), the life forms of Darwin IV lack eyes and rely on a combination of sonar and thermographic senses to discern their environment. Justified as a consequence of Darwin IV's having been extremely foggy in the recent evolutionary past, which made eyesight a liability.
- The Skitters on Falling Skies communicate with radio waves, which both they and the children they've Harnessed can detect.
- The "future predators" on Primeval use echolocation, represented on-screen with distorted false-color imagery and concentric, pulsing rings of sonic energy.
- Doctor Who:
- The Doctor has some kind of "Time Sense" relating to whether or not an event is irrevocably supposed to happen. He has also been shown to be able to slow down his own perception of time. In addition to that, he can taste and smell a host of things that humans can't, such as the blood group in a sample of blood and how old an object is.
- Time Lords have also shown a heightened sensitivity to gravity; in "Kill the Moon" the Doctor immediately realizes that the Moon has far more gravity than it should, and in "The Magician's Apprentice" both the Doctor and Missy know that they are on a planet instead of a space station because they can tell that the gravity is natural instead of artificial.
- A human variant is shown in "Before The Flood", when Cass, who is deaf, touches the floor and feels the vibrations of the ax which Mason's ghost is dragging towards her. The shapes of floor, walls, and the ax-head are traced out in spreading bright lines across a black background.
- Occasionally, a Police Procedural will illustrate a police dog's Bizarre Canine Senses using CGI light-trails that represent the trail of odor it's following.
- In The Flash (2014), King Shark has an enhanced version of a shark's electrosense, which works even on land, although the only person he's shown being able to track this way is Barry, who tends to give off a lot of electricity when running. So Barry might look like a giant flare to King Shark, even at a distance and inside a dwelling. During their climactic battle, Barry creates an electric maelstrom in the water that confuses King Shark's senses and then zaps him with lightning bolts until he's stunned.
- Cig's entry in the "Intergalactic Congress" episode of Face/Off All-Stars had heat-sensitive facial pits rather than eyes.
Play By Post Games
- Leyline: Alexis can echolocate, 'seeing' the world through sonar.
- A common one in Dungeons & Dragons is darkvision, the ability to see without any light. Earlier editions used vision that extended into the infrared or ultraviolet spectra instead. More exotic senses include blindsense (many forms, including echolocation), the much more precise blindsight, tremorsense (feeling vibrations in the ground), mindsight (detecting self-aware beings), lifesense...
- Shadowrun: Certain Awakened creatures have thermographic (infrared) vision, including dwarves, trolls, dragons, vampires, centaurs, cerberus hounds and fomorians.
- Native creatures of the Jorune game setting have no eyes, sensing their surroundings by an awareness of mystical energies.
- Traveller Double Adventure The Chamax Plague/Horde: The Chamax have two sensory abilities humans don't have. First, they can detect radio waves and use triangulation to determine their point of origin. Second, they have a limited ability to detect life, which they use to search for food.
- In Rocket Age the long dead Lunans are believed to have seen through echolocation. The Jovians can smell certain dangerous gas pockets, an important ability on Jupiter.
- The Protheans in the Mass Effect universe had the ability to read the memories of other living beings and even inanimate objects by perceiving "experience markers". This is revealed by the Prothean squadmate Javik in Mass Effect 3. Javick expresses surprise none of the current races could do it despite being otherwise on a similar technology level to the Protheans, suggesting it might not be a natural ability at all but some kind of communication technology.
- The Orz from Star Control say that they *smell* their environment. The Orz don't actually smell as their primary sense, it's just the least-wrong translation possible for the concept of exactly how they are sensing their surroundings. The Arilou also work hard to keep something from *smelling* the Humans, which imply they have a similar means of detection, mechanical or not.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, the team bounty hunter can give a short lecture on the Bith (the bulb-headed aliens that tend to be musicians in most bars). Apparently their aural perception covers a much wider spectrum than humans', including some radio signals. However, this makes them extra vulnerable to noise and a flashbang will kill them messily. One sidequest involves trying to hunt the source of a nearby radio signal for one, simply because it's transmitting through his apartment and the noise is driving him nuts.
- The Progenitors in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri can sense and manipulate a variety of fields, including electromagnetism. They communicate through "altering," too. While humans generate patterns of sounds, progenitors alter existing background noise and it's how they alter those sounds that determines meaning. This phenomenon is called "Resonance" in the game.
- Ecco the Dolphin , being a toothed cetacean, can 'look beyond his eyes with his song' i.e. use echolocation. It's depicted as summoning a map of the area. There's a level in the second game called Sea of Darkness that requires echolocation to navigate, depicted by lightening the area every time Ecco sings.
- Discworld Noir: Gaspode teaches Lewton how to use werewolf "nasal vision".
- Oddworld: Lacking eyes, Scrabs sense electrical impulses to find their prey, and Paramites navigate primarily through smell, rather than vision.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: All of Vector's senses are sharper than those of an ordinary human, and that's not even counting the ones that humans don't even have in the first place. Miraluka (see above) are also a playable race, defaulting to the Jedi classes, but unlockable.
- The Pokémon Dedenne has the ability to communicate with other Electric-types by sensing their electricity. The anime expands on this and has them even able to recognize individuals by their electric signature.
- In the world of Taming Dreams, everyone has a characteristic of their soul referred to as a sentiment, and people can perceive each others' sentiments effortlessly.
- In Evolve the monsters are capable of sensing the distortions in reality caused by Patterson tech.
- Later stages of infection in The Last of Us are dependent upon echolocation, as fungal growths around and over the face block off the host's vision.
- Homestuck plays with this. After Terezi lost her normal eyesight, she learned how to taste and smell colors to compensate. But when she contacts the human protagonists, she messes with them by claiming that all Alternians share her abilities.
- In Arthur, King of Time and Space, fairies and Olympians can see ultraviolet.
- In I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space, the main characters tend to have antennae. Word of God is that these are for some bizarre sixth sense which humans don't understand.
- Melonpool: Melotians pick up Earth television signals through their antennae. Couch potatoness ensues.
- Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger discusses the trope here as regards to Alien Arts Are Appreciated...and here as relates to Drives Like Crazy.
Rasheed: Hoo! Drive wit' me eyes? I can't see more den ten meters wid dese, brah. I use electromagnetic proprioreception. Much better dan eyes.
- As Wildmutt, Ben 10 lacks eyes, yet still experiences "images" of what's around him. This perception is probably scent-based, as the images grow sharper when he takes a breath.
- Clockwork from Ben 10: Ultimate Alien has a temporal sense that sees into the past. He can project this effect into a whole area by winding the key on his head.
- Non-alien example: When the students from The Magic School Bus are turned into bats, they experience what echolocation is like, perceiving strobe-like flashing views of their surroundings each time they emit a sonar-cry.
- Avatar The Last Air Bender: Toph's ability to "see" using Earthbending. It is very unusual when you think about it since it requires forming "images" through contact with the ground. The closest equivalent in real life would be how snakes and elephants can detect low-frequency sounds through vibrations in the ground as well.
- Some fishes can sense electricity. Such electroreception is found in lampreys, cartilaginous fishes (sharks, rays, chimeras) and in some varieties of bony fish.
- The platypus has this too, as does at least one species of freshwater dolphin.
- Echolocation is well-known in bats and toothed cetaceans. Shrews also use this means of sensing, as do cave swiftlets and oilbirds.
- Subverted with flying foxes and baleen whales, which don't use sonar even though most people assume all bats or whales do.
- Some humans have been able to develop an echolocation sense after their eyesight was permanently impaired.
- Thermographic "vision" is found in pit vipers, many boas and pythons, and vampire bats.
- On the other end of the scale from thermovision is UV vision, common to insects and other arthropods.
- The eyes of Mantis Shrimp have 12 types of cells to detect light of different color, which is four times as many as human eyes have, giving them a range of colors from Ultraviolet to possibly Infrared. In addition, they also have 4 more types of cells that detect other aspects of light than color, like polarization. This allows them to see through the glare of light reflections and even to objects that are perfectly transparent. While still retaining their ability to see colors behind them.
- Fish detect motion in the water with their lateral lines.
- Magnetoception, the ability to detect magnetic fields, is found in a wide variety of creatures, from certain kinds of bacteria to certain kinds of mammals. Homing pigeons are particularly well known for it.
- The whiskers of cats and other mammals are merely a tuned-up human sense (touch), but as with dogs' noses, they seem almost to be a separate sense.
- Rats and mice have a sense of smell that's not only vastly more discerning than that of humans, but which can distinguish the direction from which each individual aroma is coming, with no need to turn or wander around to determine where it's stronger. Thus, their experience of smell is probably more like how we experience sound or vision than aromas.
- Owls have insanely good eyesight, but it's their hearing that edges into a whole new sense. They use hearing together with sight as a primary hunting tool. Their feathers are shaped to maximize the amount of sound they hear, and their ears are offset (one higher than the other) to give them three-dimensional sound perception. Owls can locate their prey by hearing their heartbeat from up to three meters away.
- Internal parasites such as liver flukes often have unique thermo/chemoreceptor organs used to navigate within the bodies of their hosts, so they can settle down in the right organs or move to the lungs, bladder, rectum or nasal passages to release eggs.
- Compared to many other animals, humans are almost entirely lacking any sense of smell. While dogs can smell about 100 times better than humans, the sense of smell of bears is over 2,000 times as good, which allows them to detect and find dead animals from tens of miles away.
- The desman, an aquatic relative of moles, is unique among mammals in being able to smell things underwater. It blows bubbles against the surface of objects it wants to sniff, snares the now-scented bubbles with its webbed feet, and breathes them back in through its highly-flexible short trunk.
- Detailed studies of narwhal tusks have revealed them to have sensory functions, detecting water pressure, salinity, temperature and particulate concentrations.
- The Other Wiki has a whole page dedicated to this, as well as mentions of other human senses not typically considered.