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Gesnerus. 2011;68(2):218-71.

"The sixth sense": towards a history of muscular sensation.

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This paper outlines the history of knowledge about the muscular sense and provides a bibliographic resource for further research. A range of different topics, questions and approaches have interrelated throughout this history, and the discussion clarifies this rather than presenting detailed research in any one area. Part I relates the origin of belief in a muscular sense to empiricist accounts of the contribution of the senses to knowledge from Locke, via the iddologues and other authors, to the second half of the nineteenth century. Analysis paid much attention to touch, first in the context of the theory of vision and then in its own right, which led to naming a distinct muscular sense. From 1800 to the present, there was much debate, the main lines of which this paper introduces, about the nature and function of what turned out to be a complex sense. A number of influential psycho-physiologists, notably Alexander Bain and Herbert Spencer, thought this sense the most primitive and primary of all, the origin of knowledge of world, causation and self as an active subject. Part II relates accounts of the muscular sense to the development of nervous physiology and of psychology. In the decades before 1900, the developing separation of philosophy, psychology and physiology as specialised disciplines divided up questions which earlier writers had discussed under the umbrella heading of muscular sensation. The term'kinaesthesia' came in 1880 and 'proprio-ception' in 1906. There was, all the same, a lasting interest in the argument that touch and muscular sensation are intrinsic to the existence of embodied being in the way the other senses are not. In the wider culture--the arts, sport, the psychophysiology of labour and so on--there were many ways in which people expressed appreciation of the importance of what the anatomist Charles Bell had called 'the sixth sense'.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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