We have seen how deafness might be seen as a cultural construction, linked to ideas of cultural identity. However, for many people (both deaf and hearing), deafness is defined chiefly by the loss of hearing. For the next few sessions, we will consider the idea of deafness as a deficiency.
To start this study, we need to be clear what it is that deaf people do not hear. In this session, then, we will think about sound.
Perception is how we find out about the outside world. When we are born, we have the ability to deal with information about the world, but we do not have any of that information. All the information that we have about the world is perceived through our senses.
We get some information from inside our bodies, from our proprioceptors that tell us where our body is, relative to the rest of us and the rest of the world. For example, the nerves in our muscles tell our brains where our limbs are, and our organs of balance tell us which way up we are.
The rest of the information comes through receptors. All the receptors are on the head, except touch.
We need to be close to something to perceive it by taste and touch. Sight, sound and smell can be used for things further away.
Our sense of smell is not very good. Other animals, like cats, have very well-developed sense of smell. Still, what we do have is very important, especially psychologically and emotionally. Recent research has claimed that men can smell when a woman is ovulating, although the men are not aware that they can: their bodies can sense it and react physiologically to the smell. Smell is also used to protect us from danger. For example we can smell if food is off, or if something is burning.
Our sight is really pretty good, and we are able to see a lot of colour. We can see reasonably well for quite a distance, and we can see in a very wide range of brightness. We can see very clearly in our central vision, and still get pretty good information in the periphery.
Hearing is also not bad in humans. We have a terrific range of loudness that we can hear. The ear can perceive something one hundred million million (1 with 14 zeros) times louder that the softest sound it can hear. If it was any more sensitive, we would hear random motion of the molecules just knocking around.
Hearing is also a channel that is permanently open. You can close your eyes, breathe through your mouth, withdraw your hand, or keep your mouth shut if you want to stop the other senses, but it is not easy to stop hearing.
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