Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Makes Sense

Our senses make us feel things. The fundamental five – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch – often come together to create results that are truly unforgettable. But more often we think of them as lone agents, having their own unique and powerful qualities, and pitting them against each other. As in, ‘which one is your favorite?’ or ‘if you had to lose one, which would it be?’

Intelligent Life resurrected the age-old question of favorites by asking a group of seven writers to take their pick and explain why. All seem to have a slightly different interpretation of what constitutes a sense. On the table are the big five but the net is also cast wider, identifying senses that are slightly more abstract. I’ve extracted a few musings here to capture the delight of our senses in various shapes and forms.

Starting with the first two, sight and hearing, perhaps the most fundamental of the five. Related to sight, Julie Myerson chooses a sense of color, noting that her synesthesia means that not only does she see color, but smells it, hears it and tastes it. She explains: “With colour around, nothing is fixed, everything is alive… a world suffused with colour and brightness allows you to dream of anything, doesn’t it?”

Adam Foulds chooses hearing, with music being the clinching argument. He wouldn’t have to argue with me. “We need music to escape ourselves – and to experience our deepest emotions…without music…there would be no Bach, no “Be My Baby”. There would be no reason to dance.” Music provides a soundtrack to our lives and sound effects provide punctuation. The pop of a Champagne cork, hands clapping, people laughing. Sounds trigger memories and powerful emotions.

Stephen Schiff paints a caste-like system of the five key senses, whereby sight and hearing “reign supreme” and are “opulently served by the cultural forms we have devised for them – art, music, dance, theatre, poetry” while the “two lesser nobles”, smell and taste, scrap over “the dominion of food.” Touch is where Schiff pauses. It “makes democrats of us all” he says, pointing out that while some can develop a keen sense of sight or smell, a particularly sophisticated palate, or an expert ear, it’s slightly more difficult to possess a superior sense of touch. Touch is a sense to be coveted.

Julie Barnes chooses a sense of self, suggesting that our outer five senses and our inner senses, such as memory, feeling, reasoning, moral sense and guilt, act together and make us who we are. Other senses in pride of place include commonsense, “the most invoked sense, and the least reliable”; the sixth sense, “nothing precisely seen, heard, or felt” but a sense that many are attuned to nonetheless; and a sense of humor: “If you can see humour in your own misfortunes, they are less unfortunate.”

Think laterally now…what’s your favorite sense?

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