We May Overlook the Gifts of Our Senses. Today, We Recognize Them
A Change of Pace for Agents of Reason
More times than not, this blog talks about our lack of sense – as in Common Sense. National and international news has been so intense of late (and will get more so over the next 6 months), I thought we could use a little change in focus for today. About those other senses, not about common sense.
I have mentioned from time to time how important our senses are, but only in passing. They are worthy of our focused attention, even if only for a brief period.
Interestingly, the pandemic – its effects on some people and the effects on all of us of control measures – have increased everyone’s sensitivity and appreciation of our physical senses. Let’s take a few moments and call out some good thing to keep in mind and in our lives.
We are very much a sight-oriented bunch of creatures. It is our most used sense for most of us and is the primary sense for most people’s daily life. If you doubt that at all, talk with someone going through the progression of macular degeneration or other sight impairment.
The loss at first seems overwhelming, but people do learn to adapt. They most often compensate by raising other senses to higher levels.
Three notes on sight:
One is the role of color. It is glorious but can be distracting. When you buy a new computer, the sales data will advise you that you can have 17 million colors on the screen. Personally, I top out at about a dozen.
Color is a powerful thing that affects people differently. I have become aware in recent years that I personally find various shades of gray to be ideal for house exteriors and room interiors. On the surface, a very nondescript color. Upon reflection, it is a deep and variable color.
Two is the power of seeing in black and white (rather the opposite of color). I have long been an enthusiastic amateur photographer (emphasis on the word amateur). The hobby taught me how to see light and the clarity of black and white photography.
Some of my favorite nature shots were in black and white. Without color, I could concentrate on how light painted the scene and on the beauty of a tree’s architecture, for example.
Three, we often neglect our peripheral vision. Architectural and historical walks in Paris over several years taught me the importance of looking all around, especially up, especially in urban environments. Sight is a great gift – one we should use more expansively and creatively.
I ran across two interesting stories this week about hearing.
One was about a woman who has been deaf for several years. She had a cat she could barely hear if it meowed loudly. Finally, she obtained a set of hearing aids that work (many of you know that can be a challenging and personal search). She became immediately aware of more sounds.
What she did not expect was that when she went to bed that first night, she heard her cat, snuggled up next to her as always, purr. It was the first time she ever heard that, and she burst into tears of joy. I get that.
I have known people who get cochlear implants or very effective hearing aids be overwhelmed with being able to hear music or a loved one’s voice for the first time. Powerful stuff indeed.
The other story was about how Beethoven wrote his most powerful music as he became deaf. He conducted the first public playing of his Ninth Symphony. The audience was, of course, stunned with the work and gave him probably the loudest and longest ovation he had ever received. A member of the orchestra had to tap him on the shoulder and gesture to him to face the audience so he would know the effect he had on them.
An interesting footnote is that Beethoven was said to go almost into a trance when he was writing music or conducting, getting lost in the music he heard in his head if not through his ears. When the Ninth was over that night, he stopped conducting, but kept nodding – he was still hearing music – notes not yet written by him – in his head.
Perhaps the sense that carries the most memories for us, especially from childhood. And yet perhaps our most deceiving. Ever have a food item from your childhood years later or return to a restaurant after a long absence, only to find the memory was better than the reexperience? I think most of us have experienced this.
Our sense of taste likely does not mislead us. More likely that the memory has gone through some mental processing and in so doing got to be bigger than life in our minds. The memory link is a powerful one. I can almost taste upon reflection the first cotton candy, the first blue cheese dressing, the first hot sourdough bread. What a marvelous scrapbook our taste buds provide.
Scientists tell us this is the strongest of all our senses. This is the one that calls up the deepest memories and the most powerful emotions. Like everyone, I enjoy a wide range of fragrances and smells, although in my case, I think my range (both in distance and in varieties perceived) is limited. My wife, on the other hand, surely has some blood hound in her DNA. She and her siblings smell things that I never pick up.
Probably no better proof of the power of smell than that old tip that realtors tell homeowners looking to sell their home. Put some apple pie spices in the oven and heat them up or bake some cookies just before the open house. This puts everyone in a pleasant, relaxed mode.
Stores often spray subtle aromas in customer areas as well. And what smells good to you is also a very personal matter. I am still looking for a cologne that smells like fresh cut lumber.
Ah, this is the one that the pandemic brought to the forefront. It seems everyone has reflected on how much we missed patting each other on the back or exchanging a quick hug. We all thought the handshake was gone forever. It is used less often now, but it is back in play rather widely. There is something remarkably connective about touching another person, whether in joy, in sadness, or in passion.
I suspect this is another sense that we have underrated in the past but have a new appreciation for following the pandemic. Of course, touch is also the most problematic, subject to unwanted use by some. But in general, we need this form of connection with some frequency. It is reassuring and connective in a unique way.
That’s a Wrap
We haven’t even touched on how the senses team up for effects or about variations like the Sixth Sense. But we have enough for one day to chew on (or look at, or listen to, or smell, or touch…).
Try thinking about what your senses are telling you over the next few days. You have some amazing tools at your disposal. Use them fully.
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