This is a continuation of my series On How We Know. The introduction can be found here, and a full listing of articles can be found here.
In considering the knowledge we gain from sense experience the question arises, where do feelings of the Spirit or Holy Ghost fit into this. As we learn from one passage in the Doctrine and Covenants the feelings or knowledge imparted by the Spirit can be described as a "burning in our bosom". Feeling the Spirit can also be described as enlightening our understanding, or simply enlightening. So the question that we might consider is how feeling the Spirit or the influence of the Spirit relates to our other senses.
Some people choose to define it as a sixth sense that we have. In other words, when we feel the Spirit we feel it through our "spiritual sense organ" much in the same way we sense anything else through our other five senses. Without elaborating I will say that this always seemed a little ridiculous to me. While it may be useful to talk about the Spirit in this way so that those who do not understand can begin to understand, I think that it is not ultimately useful or even instructive to talk about feeling the Spirit in terms of having a sixth sense. So what is it then?
Better yet is the approach expressed by Joseph Smith as explained by Truman G. Madsen,
"On the senses, a colleague at an eastern university said to me one day, "Yes, I've heard you Mormons have a sixth sense. You do. It is the sense that enables you to swallow this nonsense called Mormonism." Even if you conclude with certain scientific naturalists that anything that is nonsensory is nonsense, that is an endorsement, in a measure, of your heritage. Said Erastus Snow, referring to the Prophet,
"Joseph taught that the Spirit of the Lord underlies all our natural senses, that is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching. The Spirit communicates with the spirit of man and enlivens all the other senses. [BYU Special Collections, MSS. 44, Folder 5]"
Thus the sensations of the spirit and the feeling we have from the Spirit are the same things that connect all our normal senses to our spirit. It is the stuff of spirit, and when the Holy Ghost speaks to us it is directly to our own spirit, that which is the repository of knowledge and awareness. Thus the sensations of the Spirit are the sensations of sense itself.