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What Are Goosebumps?

By Celia Coates

I will write about goosebumps further along, but first I’d like to quote author Tim Parks,
“…I would invite readers to refer everything they read about consciousness, whether received ideas or exciting new theories, to their own experiences; never to be wowed or dazzled, scrupulously to consider what it’s really like being alive. When it comes to consciousness, we are all repositories of quantities of evidence far richer than any available in the neuroscientist’s laboratory.
On the other hand, let us not fall into the complacent scepticism that supposes nothing more can ever be learned about these matters. Why not? Very often the obstacle to knowledge is not some supposed technical barrier, but the collective mind set, the huge interests inevitably invested in our present way of seeing the world. Why not go on exploring? Why not suppose that in some distant or perhaps not-so-distant future, people will wonder why we couldn’t see what was, so to speak, right under our noses.” *

Wikipedia, the source of a great deal of information about our present way of seeing the world, says that,
“Goosebumps are the bumps on a person’s skin at the base of body hairs which may involuntarily develop when a person is tickled, cold, or experiencing strong emotions such as fear, euphoria, or sexual arousal.
And goes on to say,
The formation of goosebumps in humans under stress is considered to be a vestigial reflex. Its function in other apes is to raise the body hair, and would have made human ancestors appear larger to scare off predators or to increase the amount of air trapped in the fur to make it more insulating.”

 For many years there have been times when I feel – out of the blue – something like prickles or tingles on my scalp that spread from the top of my head down to the base of my neck. The almost electric buzz that I experience has nothing to do with predators, or fluffing my fur against the cold, or stress. I have no argument with the information presented in Wikipedia, but following my own experiences, that’s clearly not what is true for me and I have kept on asking questions. I have wondered over and over again what this sensation is and why it arrives when it does. What am I reacting to? What am I sensing?
I found a way to keep on exploring through learning about the worlds of other animals.

Ed Yong writes about the many forms of sensing, the many ways that animals have to gain information, in his wonderful book, AN IMMENSE WORLD: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us.  **
He noted,
“It’s clear that birds evolved from dinosaurs and that many dinosaurs were covered in bristly proto-feathers or ‘dino-fuzz.’ These structures were too simple for flight, so they must have evolved for some other reason. The most common explanation is that they provided insulation, but that would be true if they suddenly appeared in large numbers. Alternatively, and perhaps more plausibly, they could have initially evolved to provide tactile information.”
He adds,
”Mammalian hair might have had a similar start, appearing first as touch sensors that were only later turned into insulating coats. Some hairs still retain that original tactile function. They’re called vibrissae from the Latin word for ‘vibrate.’ … Some mammals continuously sweep their whiskers back and forth, several times a second, as they move. This action, delightfully known as whisking, allows them to explore the zone in front of and around their heads. … I realize that a whisking mouse or rat uses its vibrissae in a way that’s far closer to what I do with my eyes. The rodent constantly scans and re-scans the area in front of it, building up an awareness of a scene. It senses something with the long, mobile whiskers on its snout, it investigates further with the shorter, immobile whiskers on its chin and lips, which are more numerous and more sensitive. This behavior is similar to that of a star-nosed mole pressing its nose along a tunnel, detecting objects with its star, and finally bringing the small and most sensitive rays into play. It’s also similar to a human sweeping their eyes over a scene, detecting something in their peripheral vision, and focusing on it with their high-resolution foveae.”

 (Wait a minute – I became distracted by having any kind of kinship with the star-nosed mole exploring a dark tunnel of earth with the front of its face. There is such a thing as over-identifying with other animals.)

I once asked a wise and highly psychic woman what she thought about my experiences. She said simply, ”They are confirmation.” That seems true to me, and I have kept on exploring what they might be confirming. As I “scrupulously consider” (to follow Tim Parks ‘advice) what they may be confirming, I think of them as an important indication of something that has to do with the unseen world. I know that we live both in a material world and the unseen one of subtle energies and that we have a double set of the 6 senses. Yes six. In the ordinary, 3D world we have seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. These involve the what the eyes, ears, body surface, mouth, and nose perceive. In the subtle world there are also five senses, the five “clairs” – clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience, clairgustance, and clairalience. These subtle senses do not rely on physical signals and they are not tied in to the neurological system. In Eastern belief systems there is also a sixth “sense organ”- the brain. It is used to perceive the world around us. The subtle sense that is connected to the brain is intuition or clear-knowing, knowing without the direct or obvious transfer of information.

What I experience happens when I am in conversations with one or more people and talking about an idea, a guess, or an observation and suddenly feel those sensations on my scalp. It is a little uncomfortable and it certainly catches my attention. I often have to stop talking and notice what is going on, to focus on what I have been saying. It makes me ask what the significance might be of what I’ll call “feathering” at that moment. What might be being confirmed?

I know I am not experiencing fear, or awe, or cold. There is nothing going on other than conversation, but I have found again and again, that there is significance in what is being said at that moment. For me, this is a sensation that accompanies intuition and directs my attention to a different level about what is being discussed.

Do you experience anything like this? If yes, please leave a comment at the end of this post with a way to get in touch with you. I do not know enough yet to make this post more substantial, more explanatory, but perhaps an area for research could be opened up and we could learn more about the many dimensions of being alive.

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* OUT OF MY HEAD: On the Trail of Consciousness, Tim Parks, New York Review Books, 2018.
** AN IMMENSE WORLD: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, Ed Yong, Random House, 2022.

The image that accompanies this post is by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay