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The senses, ranked

2020-05-21 05:22 BST

Sometimes when I’m bored I imagine what if someone threatened me with something bad unless I gave up one to four of my senses. But I get to choose which ones to keep. I’ve thought about this on and off (mostly off) for years, but I’ve shuffled a few of the rankings recently, so here is my current tier list. From most willing to give up to least willing.

  1. Taste. I'm not sure what taste did to deserve a spot as its own sense. It's like a specialized form of touch. So if someone told me I had to give up one sense, but only one sense, giving up taste feels like cheating. It's a bargain. Compared to my other senses, most of the time I'm not even using it. Yes, food is very good. In fact food is probably one of the only things in the world which can always make me happier. But even valuing food so much, taste is still at the bottom. So much of using taste is repeating the same nice experiences. Even if I'm tasting different things, it's rarely outside a predictable range of variation. Things get saltier, spicier, sweeter, whatever. It's a lot harder to find new experiences for taste than it is to see or hear something really new. If I really wanted new taste experiences, I'd probably have to go to like a high-end restaurant (which are expensive, so the experience would be rare), or eat something weird, which I probably wouldn't enjoy the experience anyway. Taste is useful in evolution I suppose. But now humans can communicate, so there's actually some benefits to getting rid of taste. I could probably drink Soylent all the time. I wouldn't eat so much sugar, and live longer for it. Taste is therefore a solid D tier sense.
  2. Smell. Some things smell pretty good, not gonna lie. With all the senses working together I should probably value smell more highly. But at this point, I'm being asked to give up two of my senses, and taste is already gone. So, what's even the point of smelling food if you can't taste it? I can't give up smell before taste, because smell is a huge part of taste, so having taste and not having smell drops taste way down in the rankings. Might as well give up taste first. But they drag each other down, so smell is next. Smell has some of the problems taste does. Most of the time, I'm not smelling much. Probably a good thing. Society has gotten rid of a lot of its value. One new problem is that it's a lot harder to control random things you might smell. Sometimes I'd rather not be able to smell when I'm walking down some streets in Beijing. But bad smells can still give you information in a way that taste won't anymore. Society assumes that people will react to strong scents, running towards fragrances and away from pollution. And there's the benefit of smell triggering past memories, though that can be good or bad. So I still put smell much higher than taste. B tier.
  3. Sight. I might get some flak for this. Sight? In third? I used to put sight first, but it's slowly fallen to third (I doubt it will fall any further). I realized that my preference for sight was mostly due to convenience. Walking around and not running into walls or getting run over by trolleys. Reading signs and email. It's not like I have to avoid predators anymore. It'd be very inconvenient to lose sight. But thinking about what I value for life as a whole, these things don't really matter. Adapting would be very hard, but after a while I think I'd get used to it. You can imagine how still having touch and hearing can help with that. Maybe the biggest thing I'd miss out on is the ability to read people. Like see subtle facial expressions and body language. But I'd happily eat this cost, considering the alternatives I have to give up. So much more of interpersonal interaction is by touch and sound. Who knows, maybe I'll even judge people less if I can't see them. Another thing I'd lose are truly amazing sight experiences. More than taste and smell, new sight experiences could be things like seeing Earth from space. Some mental images you'll remember forever. But still, these are quite rare. Sight is a much greater loss. So I'll say A tier sense. Being third in the ranking is misleading. Think of sight as being much closer to the top, far ahead of taste and smell on a number line, certainly not right in the middle as the ranking of three would suggest.
  4. Touch. This one is hard. The main reason I want to put touch even higher is because I'd feel very detached from the world without it. I'd question if material objects were real more often, because I can't reach out and tap the table. But that doesn't make any sense, because I should have the same disposition towards material objects with or without touch. The world can be an illusion either way, so drawing a line at touch evidence seems arbitrary. Maybe touch just makes me complacent. At the same time, I can't deny that touch is the most powerful sense making everything seem real. And, even more important than existing, is feeling human. Like hugging someone you love is much more than a demonstration, or an act of acknowledgment in the moment. It makes me, at least, happy in unnoticed, long-lasting ways. Losing touch would certainly be initially very hard. But I think I'd never get used to it. I get that this could be drastically different for people (I'm not going to rank the five love languages, which seems like a marketing scheme). And okay, maybe emotions are all just chemicals. But even if you can prove that valuing touch highly is mostly irrational, there's still a ton of benefits to satisfying emotion. All the time I spent underplaying sight and hyping up touch, both are still A tier. It's very close.
  5. Hearing. The only S tier sense in the ZD five senses power ranking. Hearing is easily underrated most of the time. How many times have you heard a song you really liked? Aren't those just tiny sublime, life-changing experiences, many of which add up to and exceed the rare, incredible sight experience? And you can even listen to music over and over, to death. Just try going a week without music. No matter how much you think you like music, I bet you're still underrating it. Humans have had it since we lived in caves. Oh, and talking to people! You can get so much meaning from the way people talk. Their tone and inflections. And they don't even have to be real people! You can listen to audiobooks all day if you want, to make up for all the great literature you can't read because you can't see anymore. Don't even get me started on convenience. Just the ability to hear other people is huge. Huge because other people know you can hear them. If they had to always face you so you can lip read, or write something down, people might just talk to you less out of convenience. Isn't that the most isolating feeling in the world? I'm guilty of it, as my grandparents have lost their hearing. This alone could put hearing at the top of the list for me. I don't know what I was thinking having sight here in the past (which I'm guessing is some people's favorite sense, which I'm trying to discourage).

Again, strong opinions, lightly held. I’ve changed my mind a bunch, please try to if you think I’m wrong.