3 Smart Things About Our Sixth Sense: Interoception

1. The five traditional senses keep us alert and alive: Hot pans burn, loud noises startle. Within our bodies, a sixth sense, known as interoception, perceives the state of—and threats to—our internal organs. From pangs and cramps to shortness of breath, it warns us when something is off. Hung­over from a wild bender? Waves of nausea in the presence of alcohol are interoceptive warnings to lay off the juice.

2. One easy way to test your interoception is to find a quiet room and try to sense your pulse (without touching an artery). Even babies can perform a version of this. Shown a TV show with dancing cartoon characters, 5-month-olds can tell when the animations are moving in time with their own beating hearts—a sign that self-awareness starts young.

3. Focusing on the activity of your organs—your pulse, your lungs in yoga, your bladder in an interminable meeting—seems to slow your perception of time. You can induce the temporal effect with psychedelics. Even microdoses of psilocybin will increase self-awareness to the point where it becomes harder to keep time and tap your feet to a beat.

*Adapted from The Interoceptive Mind: From Homeostasis to Awareness, ed. Manos Tsakiris and Helena De Preester, out on December 11.

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