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I'm working on a magic system for my story. One of the ideas I'm toying with is magic users gaining extra senses, depending on the kind of magic they can use.

One example is Reachsense (WIP name), ability to physically feel your surroundings within a certain distance. Something between sense of touch, classic blindsense and echolocation. This would be gained by my telekinesis users - and they'd be limited to only manipulating objects within range of their Reachsense.

What I'm wondering about is how would a human adapt to suddenly finding themselves posessing a new sense. I think Reachsense itself might be somewhat similar to the pain of phantom limbs, but there should be more to it, considering sheer amount of sensory imputs. I imagine it would be extremely uncomfortable at first, but I have some trouble working out the process of getting used to it and eventually turning it into a massive advantage over ordinary people.

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    $\begingroup$ Hello @Mentalburn, welcome to Worldbuilding. Is there any way for you to narrow down this question? There are 7 billion people on the planet, and each will react differently to all others by some degree or another. Even "average" doesn't apply due to massive differences in culture, education, philosophy/religion, physiology, etc. Can you describe one target person with as much detail as possible? Or, alternatively, pick a specific year and city on Earth and identify the basics (male/female, poor/rich, etc.). As written, this is very opinion-based, which is a reason to close. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 20, 2023 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ Also, have you done any research into how the deaf react to hearing sound the first time, or how the blind react to sight the first time? Those are likely the closest Real World analogs we have to work with, and I'd be shocked if there weren't YouTube videos showing both. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 20, 2023 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ "Something between sense of touch, classic blindsense and echolocation." - as I understand blindsense is a d&d thing, echolocation relies on sense of hearing, which humans already have, and touch is, well, touch, a sense that humans already have. So does this sense make people hear things, or feel like they're touching something, or both? $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2023 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ If I know anything about humanity, the first thing we'd use it for is probably porn. $\endgroup$
    – biziclop
    Jun 20, 2023 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ Humans have more than 5 senses (last number I read but can't find source) we have about 20 senses. The classic 5 are largely external sensory while the majority of the rest aid in internal bodily functions.). I would also look into the description of sensations given by people with synesthesia. It's a general term for a number of conditions where sensory input triggers sensations of inputs that are not associated with a property type of input, I.E. a type of sound (audio trigger) will trigger an experience of a color (sight trigger interpretation.). $\endgroup$
    – hszmv
    Jun 20, 2023 at 18:49

5 Answers 5

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Some psychology studies have already been performed that suggest the human brain is plastic enough that this isn't much of a problem.

One experimenter wore a belt around his waist, a portion of which was always buzzing and letting him know the direction of magnetic north (true north? don't remember, either is possible with electronics). After several weeks he was more than used to it, and claimed that it allowed him to navigate easily in buildings he'd never been in before.

After removing it, he also claimed that it felt in some way as if he were blinded. A sense of being lost, disoriented, and so forth lasted for days.

Other senses involve putting small permanent magnets in one or more fingertips. I have no idea why someone would do this, but apparently you can touch (the insulation of) electric wires, and know whether these are hot (have electricity flowing through them) because it produces a slight tingling sensation. Though it might be interesting and useful to have that as an electrician (so you don't electrocute yourself), seems like it might be more dangerous (fingertips are even more conductive). I have no idea why anyone else would bother. But supposedly this works too.

Many people have their sight or their hearing restored, or in some cases they will have it given to them for the first time. Surgeries and other medical interventions now sometimes border on the miraculous. They do tend to have some trouble, but it's generally social (the deaf population can sometimes be in opposition to cochlear implants, etc).

Sometimes, even new senses can be be conferred... some eye surgeries allow people to see into the near-UV spectrum. Apparently our retinas are more than capable of perceiving this light, but our corneas are pretty opaque to it.

(Though mild,) Real-world examples abound. The best we can tell, it takes a few days to a few weeks to acclimate, and then the person feels as if it's almost the case that it's always been that way. Minimal adjustment is needed, and isn't in any way uncomfortable.

Except for possibly growing taste buds in your rectum. The studies haven't done much to clarify how that affects a person.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jun 23, 2023 at 9:23
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People have given monkeys 3-colour vision using gene therapy. They learned how to use it. The researcher I met rewarded the monkeys with fruit juice when they correctly identified a colour using the new receptors. They picked up what was wanted. What they 'see' is a bit different: maybe the broadband colours that stimulate the red and green receptors look 'smooth' and the colours that only stimulate one receptor look 'rough'. As we do not have equal numbers of L and M receptors, we might be able to distinguish pure red from pure green.

It used to be believed that we stopped making new brain cells. What would happen to our memories if we did? In fact, we carry on growing brain cells all our life, and the brain is able to adapt to all sorts of new things given time.

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    $\begingroup$ If we stopped making new brain cells, presumably we'd reach our brain's maximum storage capacity at some point, and then we'd have to start dropping old data in order to make room for more-important new data, and/or store less new data in order to preserve whatever capacity is left. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like what does happen :/ $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2023 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ @JeremyFriesner: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/60503/… had me asking after just such a story. $\endgroup$ Jun 22, 2023 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ "presumably we'd reach our brain's maximum storage capacity" that's not how the brain works. The potential limit of information storage of a brain, if you want to express it in terms of a binary computer, is in the petabyte range anyway -- if you forget something, it's not because you lacked the "space" to store it. $\endgroup$
    – Arne
    Jun 22, 2023 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ The cells stop multiplying before we are born, but their connections keep changing all through our lives. That's how we learn and make new memories $\endgroup$
    – No Name
    Jun 23, 2023 at 1:53
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    $\begingroup$ @JeremyFriesner Brains appear to store information holographically, which means every cell is in some sense storing part of every memory. Adding more cells increases the quality of the memories but not the number you can store. Artificial neural networks also work like this. $\endgroup$ Jun 23, 2023 at 15:00
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Depends on your implementation

Stories enough that can help you on your way.

Curing blindness

A man blind from birth was given the option to finally see as a grown man. His eyes had worked all his life, but for a reason they could solve he could see again. It was interesting, as he couldn't recognise shapes like round or square by seeing them. Only by touching. What's horrifying is that it meant his brain couldn't comprehend anything that was thrown at it by it's eyes. The experience will be hard to make an analogue of, bit let's say it's like giving someone from a hundred or several hundred years ago a VR headset of a roller coaster, or an action part of a star wars movie. They do not comprehend anything moving, they do not know what is dangerous or how to act as they are assaulted by all these signals.

This man was missing a whole modality. Introducing something new overwhelmed him and made him regret his decision.

Learning new modalities

There's also plenty of more hopeful results. Modern human life is full of things we do not understand in our normal life we're still able to learn. The simple act of using computers and smart phones is a miracle in itself. The ability to navigate these digital environments, from webpages to apps to games, all represent movements and understanding far beyond what you find in nature.

They aren't truly new modalities. They are build up from existing stuff we already know. Humans aren't just intelligent, they are incredibly flexible and adaptable. There was evena guy that put some glasses on his head that mirrored and flipped the image what he was seeing. After 3 months or so he could drive better with those glasses than without, claiming the world to be upside down and mirrored if he took the glasses off.

Your implementation

Your implementation here is important. Is it a new modality or not? If it is not and just borrows the other senses it should be fine. If it is completely new it can be dangerous. Even so you're not dead in the water. If this part develops during your life, much like we do with our other senses, even something completely new can be learned. Imagine suddenly being able to move in a 4th dimension, as well as seeing it. It would drive us crazy. If you slowly can shutter it and grow your understanding and control, nothing much should be in your way to eventually navigate a 4th dimensional space.

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    $\begingroup$ Also (and likely more important): At what age is that sense introduced? At birth? If so, I'd expect absolutely 0 problem. As an adult (or late teenage years)? That could be more problematic. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Jun 22, 2023 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ regarding vision I remember an experiment on cats where they were only exposed to vertical (or horizontal) lines for many weeks, and they couldn't comprehend the other. $\endgroup$ Jun 23, 2023 at 15:01
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If you are looking for a real approach it would be weird/uncomfortable for a while, figuring out what that is, what you can do with it etc. The human brain is already pretty good at ignoring sensory input, it uses maybe 20% of all the information it gathers, so troubles with sensory overload are non existent.

But it wouldn't grow stronger overtime, it would become weaker with time (getting older), but it would definitely get more precise and you probably would discover some very cool tricks by abusing your own limitations.

As pointed out by @JBH (thank you!) Autism would be the effect you are looking for(assuming you want to make it clear that the new sense is very powerful and overwhelming), its believed that one of the nuances of autism is the brain not being able to handle/comprehend all sensory input.

Your characters path should start with symptoms of autism very high on the scale, and as he gets used to it/learns how to handle it, it would decrease to less severe symptoms. It would also mean that the beginning would be the make or break, with the equivalent of severe autism it would be hard to learn anything (he would get distrated when a fly landed near him since he would feel it. Even breathing in that zone would stimulate his senses), but it would be easier with time as he learns to control/ignore leading to some pretty fun possible arcs where he enters a pretty much "disabled" (I hate this word when it comes to autism) person and leaves a telekinetic mage.

As per autistic behavior I would recommend searching because with my whole life experience backing me up (i have Asperger) I can't tell it cleared then "funky"/unusual behavior.

But since its your story be open to not explaining it and just stating that has a fact he adapted to it for X amount of time or with help of X person/master.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this answer, but I think it only goes half-way and misses an opportunity for the OP. Autism is (simplistically) the brain trying to deal with sensory overload. From the OP's story's perspective, the idea could be that (usually) people develop autistic traits and are thus reduced to needing care until the brain learns to deal with the new sense. In the worst cases, the person gaining the new sense never recovers. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 20, 2023 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ That is a very good detail that i should have incorporated, i will add it to my answer and credit you, thank you @JBH $\endgroup$
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Jun 20, 2023 at 15:26
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You might make the new sense a complimentary sense of an existing sense. Say one of the senses you already have is $A$ and the new sense is called $B$. The senses $A$ and $B$ are such that they are very rarely used or are very rarely required to use simultaneously. So the times when you are not using $A$, you can automatically switch on to $B$. Since $A$ is already an established sense of yours, you have enough experience with it which means when you aren't using it, you can use that time using $B$ to get used to it.

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