Senses - John C. Kirk
Jun. 21st, 2008
08:42 pm - Senses
There was an article in Tuesday's Metro ("The sweet smell of success") about Steve Pearce, an "aroma alchemist". One line in particular caught my eye: "Your sense of smell is your most important and powerful sense but we've created an environment based on vision and colour." I think that "powerful" is a bit tricky to define, because it's different for each sense. For instance, I can see stars that are billions of miles away, whereas maximum smell range seems to be about a mile. However, it seems reasonable to compare the senses on their importance, whether that's specific to each person or general for everyone.
So, which is my most important sense?
* Smell: this is obviously out, since I can't.
* Taste: I like being able to do that, but if I couldn't then it wouldn't be a disaster; my "eating experience" relies on texture as much as tastebuds, and it might help me to lose weight if I didn't enjoy eating sweet foods.
* Hearing: Again, I like being able to do this, so that I can listen to music and talk to people. It's also useful for safety, so that I can hear if someone/something is approaching (e.g. a car). This ranks higher than taste, but I could still do without it; I could communicate in writing with other people (something that I often do already), read subtitles on TV, and check both ways before I cross a road. Also, I wouldn't have to put up with loud noise late at night.
* Sight: My gut reaction is to say that this is my most important sense, because I use it so much. I paid for laser surgery 9 years ago so that my eyes would work better, and I've never regretted that. I read a lot, and it would be frustrating to slow down to the pace of spoken words; also, it would be a lot harder to do IT work if I couldn't look at a screen or inside a case. More generally, it would be a lot harder to do simple things like cooking food or going to the toilet.
* Touch: Having said that, I think that touch is actually the dark horse candidate here. One key issue is safety; if you couldn't feel it when you trod on something sharp or touched a hot surface then you'd get injured a lot (as happens to people with leprosy). From a practical point of view, there are lots of common tasks that I now do by touch (e.g. typing) and I'd have to watch my fingers all the time. Sports like snowboarding and surfing would be right out, because they rely on feeling subtle changes in the surface and then reacting to them. I'm also thinking about a character from the comic Rising Stars: he was invulnerable, but couldn't feel anything, so the only pleasure he could get was from eating. How many pleasures rely on touch? I'm not just talking about physical intimacy; there are everyday things like taking a shower or sitting in a comfy chair.
So, what do the rest of you think?