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Tips for Tricking Your Senses

© Eva Serrabassa/iStockphoto.com

Just how many senses do we have? The neurologists we quizzed merely agreed that the human senses aren’t limited to five. “Touch, that’s the problem,” we heard more than once. “There’s the vestibular sense and the perception of temperature and…” Eyes would roll upward and voices would trail off in the recitation. So we sidestepped the actual count—after trying to corral the less classic senses in a sidebar—and collected some tips for tricking your senses, how many ever you may have.

1. Reverse Your Taste

Try miracle fruit, or Synsepalum dulcificum, which reverses taste perceptions. This small red berry has inspired “flavor-tripping” parties: Tasters will pop a single berry into their mouths for just a moment before experiencing sour and bitter flavors in unexpected ways. Tabasco sauce tastes syrupy, beer turns chocolaty, and lemons turn pastry sweet.

2. Grow a Second Nose, or Mimic the Proof of Pinocchio’s Lies

One proboscis not enough for you? Try this trick: Cross your middle finger behind your index finger, place the tip of your nose in the gap between those fingertips, and slowly rub your fingers up and down the bridge of your nose. Many people feel as if they have two noses. Trick not working? Try sitting on a chair blindfolded while a friends sits on a chair in front of you, but facing away. Ask another friend to guide the index finger of your right hand onto your seated friend’s nose. Gently tap and stroke your friend’s nose while mirroring those movements with the index finger of your left hand on your own nose. After a moment or so, many people will begin to perceive their nose as being several feet long.

3. Let Colors Fool Your Eyes

If you’re not prone to motion sickness, sample Akiyoshi Kitaoka’s gallery of optical illusions based on color. To learn more about how colors trick your brain, read about the research of one of Kitaoka’s collaborators, Margaret Livingstone, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School.

4. Assure Your Friends of Your Superior Taste

Figure out whether you’re a supertaster. (This isn’t a trick to play on yourself; nature has already played it on you.) With a cotton swab, dab a little blue food coloring on the front of your tongue. Put a reinforcing ring for three-holed paper over the area and count the number of taste buds inside the ring. Supertasters have more than thirty taste buds and non-tasters less than fifteen. Average tasters, half the population, have an intermediate number of taste buds. To learn more, read Tough to Swallow.

5. Grow Another Limb

You’ll want to gaze in front of a mirror for this one. Hide one of your arms behind a screen or a box on a table in front of you. Position a realistic-looking rubber arm on the table so it resembles your hidden arm. Ask a friend to stroke both your real hand and the fake one in an identical manner. If done correctly, you’ll begin to perceive the rubber hand as belonging to you. To learn about a more serious application of this experiment, which was devised by Vilayanur Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, read The Man in the Mirror.

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