Friday, March 24, 2006

The Most Social of Senses

Preface: It's been nearly a week since I added or updated anything to The Big Blog. I can only make excuses like "I've been rilly busy", "I've been dealing with a lot of work-related crises" and, "I just haven't felt up to it." We all know those are lousy excuses -- particularly if you're one of the dozen or so regular readers who depend on The Big Blog for intellectual sustenance. Or a good laugh. Whatever. Still, except for saying that I'm sorry, those excuses are all I can offer. Maybe some day I'll tell you more about it. Until then...

When I was an architecture student waaaay back in the '80s, all of us in design studio had to reach into a hat and pull out a handicap. Depending on our selection, we had to roam around the campus in lieu of a four-hour design studio (MW&F) dealing with an imaginary handicap, experiencing the experiences, and then writing about it afterwards.

Some got broken legs with crutches, some got to be paraplegic and chug around in a wheelchair, some were blind and had to require assistance from others to navigate about. Me? I was hoping for the chance to be blind because my grandmother was blind and since I spent a good deal of my youth assisting her in every way, I thought I had a lot to offer in the way of insights (pun intended). But no. I got to be deaf for an afternoon.

After being fitted with earplugs and then really large and tight headphones, I couldn't hear a thing. Not one tiny distant sound. While everyone else had fun with their handicaps, helping and joking and encouraging each other, we deaf few were pretty much left to fend for ourselves. People kept smiling at us and trying to talk to us. Then they would realize that they were being stupid and forgetful. After an embarrassed grin and shrug, and perhaps a little futile charades, they would give up and walk away leaving us, once again, totally alone.

Hearing is the Social Sense -- far more than sight or touch or any of the 13 senses.

13 senses?! I thought there were only five, you ask. Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. And ESP doesn't count!

You're right.

But you're not finished, I answer in my know-it-all ways. You're forgetting balance. Yes, balance is a sense. You're forgetting thermoception, the sense of heat or lack thereof. You're also overlooking nociception, the sense of pain, and proprioception, or the sense of bodily awareness. That gives us nine senses. What are the final four? Well, I answer, digging my toes into the sand sheepishly, humans don't actually possess the last four, but other animals do, so they count as senses. They include: magnetoception, electroception, echolocation, and pressure detection. If you would like to read more about them, go here. Otherwise, let's go back to my story...

Sound is the Social Sense. Without it, we are cut off from 90% (or 75% or 95% or whatever, but it's huge) of communication with others around us. Sure, there's sign language and visual cues and body language and and and. But the thing I learned that afternoon was that without light and seeing, we are cut off from a vast array of physical inputs, orientation within our surroundings, and various stimulation around us. We are in the dark, as scary as that thought may be. It's certainly unnerving to consider. But without sound, one is locked within his or her own little world where communication and the sharing of ideas and thoughts and the verbalizing of experience and wisdom becomes very very difficult and limited. One becomes very alone.

My wife's father has had poor hearing for decades now, relying on hearing aids to be able to talk to people or to watch The Jim Lehrer News Hour at maximum volume. Even then, for him to carry on a conversation could often be very challenging and exhausting. Same with the rest of us. The added concentration he had to devote to listening made communication a chore at times. Or at least that's the way it appeared to me at times. My wife often said he had trouble hearing, but I said -- perhaps a little less sympathetic than I should have, considering my own semi-deafness as a child -- that at times he had trouble listening too. Both my wife and I noticed that he seemed to be listening less and less these past few months and years.

Until he got himself a new set of high-tech hearing aids. His old hearing aids, it turned out, were something like 20 years old! But the new ones pulled him right back into the Social Scene, my wife says. While I haven't had a chance to talk to him since he received the new hearing aids, my wife says that her father is practically chatty! Frightening thought, that one.

Yet, that proves it to me once and for all that because sharing stories, memories, and experiences with others is one of the huge differences between us humans and all other life forms on the planet, and since we must consider the shared culture and accrued societal memories in the forms of laws, education, art, religion, philosophy, science, and everything to be the best part of humanity, Sound,
which makes it all possible,
is utterly and indispensably the most Social and therefore most valuable Sense.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess the architectural solution is to have lots of signs everywhere and, in the event of an intercom system relaying valuable information, to also have a display of the verbage?

i think humans can also indirectly sense pressure when you consider earaches and popping on aeroplanes.... that counts.

11:29 AM, March 25, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

I had the same thought, so naturally I agree.

6:57 PM, March 25, 2006  

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