What the sixth sense is

Sense of balance, sense of humor, sense of propriety

Dear Matthew Alice: In school I was taught about our five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. The sixth sense is relegated to inexplicable knowledge or other shadowy mental abilities. I propose that our sixth sense might be our ability to sense, by use of our ear canals and inner-ear nerves, the earth’s center of gravity, thus enabling us to keep our balance and to know which way is “up.” Could this be considered a sense in itself or merely a function of touch? — James V. McCarthy, San Diego

From where I sit, fewer people actually know which way is up than you might hope. Balance requires a combination of senses, and it’s not really the earth’s core we’re sensing, though I like the mental picture. I propose our sixth sense should be either a sense of humor or a sense of propriety. Though I suspect it’s really a sense of impending doom.

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