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 stating “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.