5 Super Senses Secretly Wielded by the Human Body

You can see and smell so much more
5 Super Senses Secretly Wielded by the Human Body

You think you know how your body works. You hear sounds, feel heat and taste whatever someone put in your mouth. But your senses are so much more powerful than that. For example, many of us have the ability to see dead people, and that’s not really the sixth sense because you already have more than five senses. Plus, your senses are capable of such marvels as...

Hearing Microwaves

Your microwave oven makes noise because of the machinery. There’s a magnetron in there, maybe motors that rotate a turntable, a cooling fan, and of course, all that stuff produces sounds. The electromagnetic waves themselves, however? You can’t hear those. You can’t hear light, you can’t hear Wi-Fi, and there’s no reason to think you can hear microwaves. 

And yet, people are sometimes able to hear these waves. Work close to waves, and you’ll hear clicks and buzzing, the sort of noises that shouldn’t be possible without an electronic receiver translating the signal for us. We call this the Frey effect, after discoverer Allan H. Frey, though when he first observed the phenomenon in 1961, people dismissed it. “That’s just ringing in the ears,” people said, attributing the condition we now call tinnitus. But it’s not just ringing in the ears. It’s an acoustic wave propagated in your brain because microwaves caused your tissues to expand.

peeps microwave

Eileen O'Shea

Much like when you put Peeps in a microwave oven.

This greatly interests scientists because it means maybe we can use microwaves to kill people. Generally, the Frey effect leads to a tiny bit of tissue expansion without really cooking and exploding the brain, but maybe we could produce many more intense waves, which send gray matter leaking out of everyone’s ears. The main drawback of such a weapon, note scientists, is that it would be too bulky so would be unsuitable for most stealth applications. 

Feeling Magnetism

Several species of animal navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. Birds navigate this way, turtles use magnetoreception to find the sea and simple fruit flies can be trained to sense magnetism. What about humans? Officially, no — we assumed humans don’t. But more recent experiments say humans do.

Here’s how we normally test if an animal can sense magnetism: We place food in one end of a magnetic field and the test subjects in the middle, letting them find the food for a while. Then we remove the food and switch the field around a few times and see if the animal (who has associated food with the north end of the field) now keeps heading north. In 2019, Korean scientists tried this with humans. The food they used? Chocolate chips

chocolate chips


Any test subjects who did not like chocolate chips were compassionately euthanized. 

Under ordinary conditions, no people could be made to associate chocolate chips with one direction of the field or the other. But then the scientists introduced a twist — they starved the subjects. Subjects went at least 18 hours without any food other than pure water. Now, they were able to be conditioned to detect the magnetic north based on the previous placement of the chocolate chips.

A totally unexpected wrinkle emerged, though: Only the men were able to do so. Naturally, the scientists had to speculate on the evolutionary explanation behind this, maybe something about ancient men taking the lead in navigating to hunt or gather. It also sheds light on the old stereotype about men refusing to ask for directions. It’s because men know where they’re going — using magnets. 

Tasting, With the Testicles

Magnetoreception isn’t the only way in which men are blessed. They also have some extra taste buds. While men and women both have taste buds in their tongue and throat, men have additional taste buds in their testicles. When news of this spread, people took to social media to film themselves dipping their balls in soy sauce.

soy sauce

CA Creative

Soy sauce. Not something sweet like honey, because that would be gay. 

That stunt failed because the buds aren’t on the skin of the scrotum but in the testis’ interior. Also, they don’t send a signal to the brain, which means no one can perceive anything tasted down there as sweet or sour. These buds work autonomously, sensing chemicals in order to (we theorize) kill sperm that fails the taste test. 

If you lack testicles, don’t worry. Not only do you have alternate methods for tasting spermatozoa, but you also have other surprising organs with taste buds of their own. Your heart has taste buds and can taste how bitter you are. When your heart buds detect bitterness, the heart contracts differently — maybe less pressure will build up in the left ventricle while pressure rises in the aorta. We aren’t totally sure of the benefit of this. The heart may be sensing drugs in the system and responding to counter them. Or, it might be tasting chemicals excreted by bacteria and reacting with disgust. 

Seeing Ultraviolet

Let’s jump back to the idea of sensing electromagnetic waves. We said that you can’t (usually) hear these waves. You also usually can’t see them. You can see a narrow spectrum of electromagnetic waves, which we call “visible light,” but you can’t see waves longer or shorter than that. You can’t see ultraviolet radiation, for instance, unless you use some device or fluorescent material that converts it to visible light.

Or so we’re told. In reality, if UV rays hit your retina, your optic nerve will send a signal to your brain, just like if visible light hit it. You will see UV as white tinged with blue or purple. 

The only reason you don’t see UV is the lens in your eye filters UV away, keeping your retina from getting any. If you lose the lens, UV will hit you with full force, and you’ll see UV from now on. The condition is called aphakia, and you might get it if doctors pull a cataract off your eye and pull the whole lens off with it. 


University of Iowa

Look, an eye with no lens! (It doesn’t look that different.)

Without the lens, you’ll have trouble focusing on stuff that’s far or close, so that’s not great. But you’ll now be able to spot Nazi submarines signaling each other with UV lamps, and there’s no putting a price on that power. 

Smelling Relatives

“Yeah, yeah,” you say, reading the above heading. “Of course I can smell my relatives.” Relatives are smelly, and yours are smellier than most. But you can also use your sense of smell to distinguish people who are related to you from people who aren’t. 

We’ve run a bunch of experiments to demonstrate this. If we could recognize our family by scent because they’re familiar, that would be one thing, but this runs deeper than that. Children in tests are able to recognize their biological siblings by scent but not their stepsiblings. Parents are able to recognize their biological children by scent but not their stepchildren. This suggests people recognize the scents of only those genetically similar to themselves.


Christopher Campbell

“Predisposed to madness? They smell just like me!”

This power has another layer. Based on tests, you’re good at identifying if someone is related to you, if they’re the opposite sex. If they’re the same sex as you, you’ll have less luck. This suggests a possible benefit. Maybe when you smell someone genetically similar to yourself, you cease to be attracted to them. It might be a mechanism for avoiding inbreeding — thanks to not being turned on when you smell your own genes, you’re spared all the downsides of incest. 

And now we have an explanation for why, in the world of porn, seemingly every video has “step-“ somewhere in the title. People are fine with that sort of thing so long as there’s no blood connection. They just want to find someone who doesn’t smell like mom. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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