Perceptions of the senses

SPACE continues its exploration of knowledge through the senses

by Jamie Floyd

As part of the third and final Space Talks events and in conjunction with the Humanities and Public Life conference, anthropologist David Howes explored the theme of sense and culture, while discussing the sixth sense last Wednesday in 5B.13.

Howes quickly established his main goal of the night by stating that “perception takes place between the sense organ and the object, not in the brain.”

This was a direct reference to psychologists, who believe in the latter. As a result, he proceeded to mock the ones in attendance for the entire night.

“The important thing is to understand the reach of the senses,” Howes said.

Howes explained the evolution of the senses beginning with a painting by Albert Durer in 1450, in which the painter looks through a grid and transposes what he is seeing on paper.

“This represents a model for the visualization and objectification of the world,” Howes said.

He followed this with examples of various cultures who perceive the world through other senses than sight.

“Different cultures elaborate different senses in different ways. All the senses can be just as useful and effective,” Howes said.

The conversation then opened up to the notion of gender perception and if men and women perceive the senses in the same way.

He informed the audience of a fifth taste, discovered by the Japanese “Unami”, which has a brothy and meaty taste and he spoke of his recent book The Sixth Sense Reader.

Howes discussed the lack of significance accorded to the number six as a reason why the sixth sense is not as researched and as popular as the others.

“The sixth sense is one that doesn’t fit because we haven’t found a symbolic way to attribute it,” Howes said.

The anthropologist concluded that we should explore and use all of our senses like other civilizations and cultures have done, because they can all be useful and effective.

“I’m interested in paying respect to all the senses at the same time,” he said.

He also noted that touch is the least developed sense and then informed the room of “cuddle parties” in which people get together to simply cuddle.


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