by Ashley Ward (Profile £20, 320pp)
How many senses do we have? Some scientists believe it may be as many as 53. As biologist Ashley Ward points out, sight is often considered the most dominant, as it ‘involves a vast number of sensory receptors — around 200 million cells — and consumes more of the brain’s resources than all of the other senses combined’.
Compared with some creatures we have excellent vision. If cats were human, they could be declared legally blind. Dogs’ eyesight is little better.
Yet, as Ward remarks, ‘we look but we don’t always see’. He cites a well-known experiment in which people were asked to watch film of a basketball game and count the number of passes the players made. They were so concentrated on this task that most of them did not register the fact a man in a gorilla suit walked across the court at one point.
Compared with some creatures we have excellent vision. If cats were human, they could be declared legally blind. Dogs’ eyesight is little better
As well as their eyes taking in what was in front of them, their brains were busy constructing a narrative. That narrative did not include a large ape joining the game so they did not see it.
‘Sound,’ Ward writes, ‘has an almost unique ability to tap into our emotions.’ Different types of music can move us profoundly, or disturb and terrify us. In 1989, American troops played heavy metal at enormous volume outside the building in which the deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega had taken refuge. He surrendered days later.
Some scientists believe that we may have as many as 53 senses. Biologist Ashley Ward points out that sight is often considered most dominant
The loudest sound ever experienced by humans was probably the eruption of the Indonesian volcano, Krakatoa, in 1883. This is calculated to have been 310 decibels. People 5,000 kilometres away heard it.
Unlike sight and hearing, our sense of smell might seem insignificant. In a recent survey of British teenagers, half confessed they would rather be without their sense of smell than their mobile phones. They might not be so keen to dismiss it if they knew the role it played in sexual attraction. Single men smell more strongly than those in relationships; heterosexual women (often unconsciously) judge men’s allure on their smell.
Taste and touch too play hugely significant roles in our lives — there is an argument that touch is the most important sense of all. Children deprived of it in early life bear emotional scars that rarely heal as they grow older. Our senses are, in Ashley Ward’s words, ‘the interface between our inner selves and the outside world.’
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group