Monthly Archives: September 2012

Lab 1: Small grains in a small glass bottle.

Michael Rice

AP/ANTH 3560: Anthropology of The Senses

LAB 1 Essay

Part 1

At first glance, the object in question is a small glass bottle, relatively small which kind of looks like the little glass bottles they get you to pee into at the doctor’s office. Fortunately this bottle does not smell of urine, and does not contain any sort of yellow liquid. WHEW!

The bottle is sealed with a white lid, reinforcing the doctor’s bottles, or plastic prescription pill bottles. The bottle contains small grains of what, visually, could be either sand or pepper.

On opening the bottle, I pour a small amount into the white lid, feeling the substance which feels gritty or grainy against my skin. This does not feel like sand, as having spent as much time as possible lounging around the beach all summer, I am very familiar with how sand feels against ones skin. Nope this is not sand.

Smelling the lid, it smells like black pepper. As the substance in question was deemed to be edible, and feeling adventurous, I decided to taste a small amount, and why yes, indeed, it tastes exactly like black pepper. At this point I can safely conclude based on sight, taste, touch and smell that the small grains in the small glass pepper, is black pepper.

But does black pepper make a sound? At this point my A.D.D. is going nuts as I am bored with my object, and enviously checking out other peoples objects. People have cool noise-makers, kaleidoscope things, tennis balls—others got to leave class and go outside on a nice day. Me, I am examining black pepper and wondering if anyone would notice if I bogarted a small amount for my home kitchen–but really I don’t know where that pepper’s been. Oh crap, I tasted it, didn’t I. Oh well, too late now and I have eaten Aramark cafeteria food and lived.

Putting the lid back on and sealing it tight, after looking at my cellphone clock–realizing that I had another 15 minutes left, I vigorously shake the bottle and the pepper inside doesn’t make any sound when shaken in this bottle.

To the touch, the bottle feels like glass and visually looks like glass. There is a slight sound make when tapping the bottle with a pen to reinforce that the bottle is in fact made of glass.

Holding the small glass jar in one hand, it is clear that the bottle and what is contained inside, does not weigh very much. Visually the bottle appears to only contain, at most, 200 to 500 grams or so of pepper.

While still looking sort of like a medical bottle, the bottle also reminds me of similar plastic spice jars/containers that I usually have at home. I remember that I don’t have any now as I am still relocating into my new digs in one of the “Mature” student residences on campus, and lucky me, the first week I moved in they decided to renovate my kitchen.

This exercise reminded me that I need to buy some pepper or help myself to a couple more handfuls of pepper packets the next time I get a burger at McPuke.

Part 2

As in my view, my object was not very exciting or stimulating, I had some difficulty in taking my partner through the sensory experience I had using the object or walking him through the experience. Jotting my thoughts down as I examined the object and using them as a guide, helped somewhat, but mostly I was just happy to get to play with a toy that didn’t suck and found myself playing with and examining my partners toy and realizing that if you smacked someone across the back of the head, with the wooden dog toy, that you probably could do some damage–making me wonder how safe the toy might be for kids.

Writing about my own experiences was difficult enough, as while I used all 5 of the senses we all know so well, and also talking about the weight of the object–I wasn’t really “stimulated” by the object I was asked to examine.

So I sensed apprehension in describing my object to another person, as I did not want them to experience/sense boredom (including my own which I was trying hard to hide), and as best as I could I used my sense of humor to put myself and my partner at ease in walking them though the experiential-participatory journey.

All in all, I enjoyed the exercise and if I can find a spare moment in my crazy schedule, will endeavor to skim a few of my classmates blogs to read about their own experiences with their objects.


Synott: The 5 Senses And The Importance of Sight

Michael Rice, AP-ANTH-3560 Anthropology of the Senses.

It is commonly understood in North American society that there are 5 senses, and only 5 senses and that these are: touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell. In Synott 1993, we are presented with numerous theories on the senses, and Tardiff for example believes that there are only two types of people eye people and ear people, in other words, visual learners and auditory learners.

Indeed, Plato (arguably the greatest philosopher who has ever lived) believed that sight was the sense that leads to God and truth. “The sight in my opinion is the source of greatest benefit for us, for had we never seen the stars and the sun and the heaven, none of the words we have spoken about the universe would ever have been uttered […]” (Timaneus 47; 1963: 1174-75).

The Ancient Greeks fully embraced the Sensorium and were some of the first philosophical thinkers to think that enlightenment could only be attained by utilizing all of the senses, and “Parmenides, it seems, was the first to make the momentous decision between the senses and reason, he reported that the goddess warned him not to trust the senses but to judge by reason” (Guthrie, 1965:25).

Aristotle not only discussed all five of the senses, but he ranked them as well, with sight, hearing and smell being seen as being more human/superior. Taste and touch, by contrast, were seen as animal like and inferior. “Now sight is superior to touch in purity, and hearing and smell to taste” (Nicomachean Ethics 1176; 1984: 1858).

Rene Descartes also favored sight as he began his Diopic by stating that “The entire conduct of our lives depends on our senses, among which that of sight being the most universal and most noble, there is no doubt that inventions which serve to augment its power are the most useful which could exist.”

Synott concludes by statingĀ “We all live in very different sensory worlds …” and this assessment seems accurate cross-culturally as different cultures put different emphasis on the senses, and indeed people with various sensory disabilities often compensate for one disability by utilizing their other senses more fully than people who possess all 5 senses, so that the blind tend to hear things that others do not, and by using touch they can read Braille, a skill that most sighted people have great difficulty learning.