I’ve become fascinated with trying to infer things occurring around me without the use of sight. Sight is our default sense, and our other senses are most often just auxiliary feelings that serve to alert our eyes to an activity. Our eyes almost seem directly connected to our mind and our consciousness, at least when they’re open. I first noticed this dependence through my automatic reactions. I would hear the sound of gears and a soft rattle and know that there was a bike coming up behind me, but I would instinctively look behind me to verify this supposition. There’s really nothing else that it could be, but my mind still wants visual confirmation before it is satisfied with an observation. This seems prudent, but also unnecessary. It isn’t a predator approaching for the kill – the stakes aren’t nearly that high – so I don’t have to be quite so meticulous. I should instead be satisfied with my auditory knowledge, and trust in its accuracy.
Realizing this instinct, I’ve begun to intentionally refrain from using sight to verify suppositions gained from other senses. Today I came to an intersection on my bike as a car rolled to a stop opposite me. I went right, and listened as it went straight. Some worried instinct for self-preservation in me urged me to look behind me and check, but I refused, determined to be content with what I had heard. Logically, I knew I was right, but viscerally I just don’t trust anything but my eyes.
This kind of instinct severely undervalues our other senses. Last year I had a profound revelation that sounds stupid. Most people ignore or don’t even hear train whistles, but think about what is actually happening. You get a sense, a feeling, and from it you infer that there is a train several miles away. You know what direction it’s in, and if you have a sense of the area, you might know exactly where it is. Think about it! It would might take 20 or 30 minutes to walk to the train, you wouldn’t be able to see it until you came upon it, but nonetheless you can say with absolute certainty that there is a train within a relatively small area. That’s like a superpower! Its a common superpower, but damn. If there were a society of people without that ability, it would seem like the most incredible, useful, supernatural ability ever.
But on a more everyday level, being more in tune with your other senses leads to a greater comprehension of the world around you, and with less effort. We typically block out most of the sensory data that barrages us, choosing instead to absorb only a fraction of what we see and hear. By broadening that range, and by trying to infer things about the environment around you from the smaller sounds, the more obscure sights, the smells, and the feel of a place, allows for a much greater understanding than just scanning the place visually. Eventually I hope to get to a point where I not only use my other senses actively rather than passively, but where I trust the information that I obtain from them as much as I do the information I get from my eyes.