I've gotta be up front here, I have no reliable sources for the following information. What I've pieced together I've picked up here and there as rumor and various mad scribblings of people who used to be, or at least claim to have been, involved with Scientology. The Church of Scientology is infamously tight-lipped about these things, with much information being distributed by disgruntled former members. It took decades before anyone outside the Church had even heard of this Xenu character, despite his central role in the Church's mythology. So take the following cum grano salis.
In the late 70s, L. Ron Hubbard wrote down a list of 57 superhuman senses he claimed were possessed by thetans which people who were "clear" (free of unwanted engrams, or harmful memories) could learn how to utilize. The full list is below. Most of them appear to be normal human senses that any healthy, fully-developed adult possesses. Others, such as "fields/magnetic" are not. Several appear to be duplicates, such as body position, joint position, and kinesthesia. Hubbard wrote that the Church of Scientology should teach its members how to tap into these abilities, but he never formally released the list or even developed a method by which these could be tested or trained before he died. Almost three decades after they were drafted, in 2006, Matt Feshbach publicly announced that the Church is actively working on methods for doing this.
The enormous 170,000 square foot Super Power Building in Clearwater, Florida is the center where this takes place. Still under construction, certain areas of the center are already open to test and train Scientologists, and reportedly anyone who wants to make a donation as well, in the 57 perceptics. Presumably, some of these are fairly easy to test, for example balance, color, depth, sound, and so forth. Others would be difficult, perhaps requiring expensive medical equipment to confirm the subject's sensations are correct, for example blood circulation, moisture (self) (I can only assume this refers to a person's state of hydration rather than being physically wet), and saline content of self. Others are rather vague or otherwise difficult to confirm, such as personal emotion, awareness of awareness, and level of consciousness. And some of them appear to be simply beyond the human ability to directly perceive at all, such as compass direction, fields/magnetic, and self-determinism. If these abilities can be developed, they would certainly qualify as actual Super Powers.
The Super Power Building is expected to open some time in 2010, but the project has been plagued by budget overruns and construction delays.
The 57 Perceptics
Please note that this is not L. Ron Hubbard's original order, and the original list was not split into categories. Since I could find neither rhyme nor reason in the original list, I have rearranged and categorized them for my own convenience. I have also added my own comments. The original list contained only the terms and sometimes a clarification in parenthesis.
The five basic human senses
Sight, taste, hearing, smell, and touch are the five commonly listed human senses. The perceptics list splits sight, hearing, and touch into more specific attributes.
- The first listed of the five basic human senses, such a large portion of the population requires vision correction that this could be problematic to train.
- Various people suffer from degrees of color blindless, my own father being completely color blind and seeing the world in shades of grey. I have to wonder if the Super Power program claims that it can fix this.
- Depth perception is possessed by nearly everyone with two functioning eyes, and various visual clues can even give people with only one eye a decent idea of how far away things are.
- Relative sizes (external)
- Rumors abound of workers building chairs of various sizes, from giant to doll, which may be related to training this sense. It's a little-known fact that this is an easy sense to fool, being thrown off by high or low viewing angles and the sizes of things nearby.
- Second listed of the five basic human senses, very few people lack a sense of taste without having been in some sort of accident. However sensitivity to taste varies widely from person to person based on a number of uncontrollable factors, including density and type of taste buds.
- Third listed of the five basic human senses, I wonder if the Super Power program claims it can cure deafness? This would be a very testable claim.
- Perhaps this refers to developing so-called perfect pitch?
- Tone is the quality of sound, rather than the value (pitch, such as F#). What could be measurably tested and trained here is vague.
- Perhaps this refers to the trainee learning to judge deciBel levels.
- Sound direction
- Having two ears gives people fairly good judgement on the direction a sound is coming from, assuming a lack of echos and other disturbances, but it's not very accurate even in the best cases.
- Fourth listed of the five basic human senses, smell is interdependent with taste.
- Touch (pressure, friction, heat or cold and oiliness)
- Fifth listed of the five basic human senses, it should be noted that "pain" is separately listed farther down.
- Solidity (barriers)
- A bit vague, I'm curious how this differs from the perceptics of touch.
- Gravitic (self and other weights)
- I don't really see any problem with this being distinct from the sense of touch, the ability to judge weights accurately could be pretty useful.
- Normally lumped in with touch, pain is the body's way of telling you to stop doing something because it's doing damage, a very handy sense to have. Those rare and tragic people who cannot feel pain suffer from frequent ailments such as burns and broken bones since they are unaware of their physical limits.
Other common senses
A case can be made that the five basic human senses are too generalized and that people have several more senses, some only tangentially if at all related to the big five. These are certainly verifiably normal senses far enough removed from the basic ones that I thought they deserved a separate classification.
- This one sounds fairly normal, if difficult. A person's sense of time passing is notoriously variable, Einstein having been quoted as saying a minute sitting on a hot stove feels like an hour, while an hour sitting next to a pretty girl seems like a minute.
- Time track motion
- I'm not sure how this differs significantly from "time", above.
- Although not typically listed as one of the basic senses, rhythm is a fairly standard ability.
- Personal emotion
- I'd love to know how they plan to independently verify emotion for testing purposes.
- Personal size
- This is part of proprioception, along with some of the other senses that follow. Proprioception is a well-understood phenomenon that allows the brain to know what position the body is in by sensations in the muscles.
- Body position
- The main part of proprioception, I'm not sure how this is significantly different from joint position, which follows.
- Joint position
- See above.
- I am unsure how this is significantly different from the other listed proprioception senses.
- Motion of self
- Not sure if this refers to another part of proprioception, or simply the ability to feel acceleration, but in any case it's another pretty standard sense.
- Motion (exterior)
- Very vague, I'm not sure what this means, unless it refers to the ability to judge speeds by eye.
- Organic sensation (including hunger)
- If someone was unaware that they were hungry, that could be problematic. I fully endorse the training of this sense.
- Perception of appetite
- I am unsure how this is significantly different from "organic sensation (including hunger)" above.
- Most people are not consciously aware of their heartbeat most of the time, but if you focus on it, it's relatively easy to do. Through meditation some people (including me) can even manipulate their own heartbeat.
- Internal temperature
- Body temperature is usually not something that a person can detect directly, rather it tends to be the result of feeling hot or cold when the environment is comfortable to other people.
- External temperature
- Another normal sense, typically lumped in with touch, but accurately judging ambient temperature would probably depend on having a normal body temperature to judge by.
- Another normal sense, typically lumped in with touch, the sense of balance is the result of liquid movement in the inner ear. Spinning the body around quickly can throw off the sense of balance by interfering with the normal motion of this liquid.
- Muscular tension
- Muscular tension is another one of those senses that I'm glad I don't experience all the time, rather only when something is wrong. What a great way to request a massage, though.
- Saline content of self (body)
- I've felt pretty loopy and nauseous on those rare occasions when my electrolyte balance was too far off (a result of sweating heavily and drinking plain water), but aside from such extreme and dangerous conditions a person is normally unaware of their saline content.
- Physical energy (personal weariness, etc.)
- Another perfectly normal sense, easily manipulated with various chemicals.
- Moisture (self)
- Assuming this refers to hydration rather than being physically wet, cotton mouth and a general sense of thirst are pretty standard-issue human sensations.
- Emotional state of groups
- Groups, by and large, are unsubtle with their emotional states, being known to engage in activities such as applause and rioting.
- Awareness of location and placement (masses, spaces and location itself)
- This could possibly refer to object permanence, something you should really have developed by this point.
Metaphysical or otherwise difficult to verify
These perceptics refer to non-physical phenomena that I can't even think of ways to test.
- Awareness of awareness
- Very meta, without awareness of awareness it would probably be difficult to master any of the others. I wonder why this wasn't listed first?
- This one is so philosophically complicated I'm not even going to open this can of worms.
- Emotional state of other organs
- LOL WUT?
- Personal position on the tone scale
- The tone scale is a Scientology term.
- Reality (self and others)
- I would consider a sense of reality to also be a true Super Power, as the only way we can perceive the world around us is through our senses. Charles Dickens famously wrote that "a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats." To be able to differentiate false sensations from true reality would be a massive boon.
- Level of consciousness
- Similar to having a sense of reality, the ability to be aware of one's sense of consciousness would seem to depend on being fully conscious, a classic Catch-22 if there ever was one. Another Super Power if possible.
- Awareness of not knowing
- There are known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Knowing your unknown unknowns would definitely qualify as a Super Power. I'd totally read a comic book about someone with this power, Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore could probably do it justice.
- Awareness of importance, unimportance
- Pretty subjective, but ultimately useful, the ability to judge what is and isn't important is handy for managing stress. On the other hand, being acutely aware of one's own relative unimportance generally results in either psychotic breakdown or a craving for fairy cake.
True Super Powers
Verifiable abilities humans do not possess, these perceptics would absolutely classify as superpowers. Granted, the adventures of Compass Man, savior of lost hikers would probably not be a very exciting comic, but these would all be undeniably useful abilities if they could be developed.
- Endocrine states
- Referring to the glands and the hormones they secrete, most of the endocrine system is difficult if not impossible for a person to really be aware of.
- Blood circulation
- One step beyond being aware of one's heartbeat is being aware of one's own blood circulation. This sounds particularly dangerous to test, and I'm not sure it's even possible to detect directly. The "pins and needles" feeling of a limb falling asleep is actually the result of pinching nerves rather than blood vessels (as is sometimes believed). The cutting off of circulation does have secondary effects, such as a sensation of coldness or swelling.
- Cellular and bacterial position
- Okay now we're way off into true Super Power territory. I'm not sure I even want to be aware of this.
- Magnetic fields are absolutely impossible for a human being to detect, even the massive and powerful magnets of an MRI scanner are entirely undetectable. Even the iron in human blood is in a non-ferromagnetic state. There are people, however, who have implanted rare-earth magnets under the skin in their fingertips which can provide an artificial approximation of this sense.
- Compass direction
- Although some birds and reptiles seem to be able to detect compass direction with the pineal gland in the forehead, humans are unable to do so (even if some people do have an extraordinary, if unrelated, sense of direction). This would be another true Super Power.
Too vague to categorize
I'm not even sure what most of these mean.
- Affinity (self and others)
- Communication (self and others)
- Perception of conclusions (past and present)
- Perception of computation (past and present)
- Perception of imagination (past and present)
- Perception of having perceived (past and present)
- Awareness of others
- If this refers to that feeling you sometimes get that someone is standing behind you, I'll pass, thanks. The last thing I need is to be absolutely certain someone is standing behind me.