Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:
The best writing engages all the senses. That’s worthwhile advise most writers will get at some point in their careers, but how many senses do we humans have?
Thousands of years ago, Aristotle concluded that we have five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. That seems reasonable enough, and five continues to be the traditional number of senses. But depending on whom you ask, you might get a different answer.
Equilibrioception is a sense we rarely have to think about, unless something goes wrong with it. It’s governed by the vestibular system, which is located in your inner ear.
Basically, equilibrioception is your perception of up and down. It’s your ability to orient yourself in relation to gravity so that you can keep your balance while standing or walking.
If you’re writing science fiction—especially hard Sci-Fi—this is a sixth sense you may want to think about (telepathy just got bumped to seventh sense!). The experience of zero-G, or fractional Gs, or Gs greater than one, could really screw with your characters’ heads.
Even experienced astronauts are known to have equilibrioception-related problems from time to time.
As for artificial gravity, it might “feel” a bit off too. If you’re simulating gravity by rotating your spaceship, as seen in movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, you might experience a gravity-like pull that is skewed slightly relative to the floor. Or your feet might experience slightly more Gs than your head (especially on smaller spacecraft).
So science fiction writers, remember to engage all the senses in your writing, even senses like equilibrioception that we don’t normally think about. And if you manage to give your readers a bit of vertigo, you’ve done your job well.
How to Pronounce Equilibrioception
Humans Have a Lot More than Five Senses from Today I Found Out
You Don’t Actually Have Five Senses from Modern Notion.