This is a paper that I’ve thought of writing for some time now, and it is one that I’m sure there is a wealth of writings on that I’m ignorant of.
Of all the senses, it is that of hearing which produces the most reliable source of entertainment and is the least attached to the pleasures of the appetite. The connection to smell and taste to the pleasure of consumption does not need to be stated let alone explained or argued. It is a pleasure that though habitual as long as one lives, is short-lived every time it comes to life, for though one can eat much through gluttony, the more one eats the less one enjoys. One can enjoy smells and even in theory tastes (e.g. wine tasting) without the appetite or even necessarily consumption involved, but the pleasures involved with such things are by nature short-lived even then and are often linked to desire, or rather create desire through their mere appearance, even when they are not linked to the desire of appetite. This is seen in the fact that whenever one partakes of something and enjoys it, the very moment the taste is gone and the person has swallowed they are yearning to take another morsel because the lack of pleasant sensation becomes unpleasant or an irritant to him or her. Ultimately, because of their short lived and dependent nature, the senses of smell and hearing are the lowest of senses, and if Man did not require food to survive, and these senses were removed from his being, he would not be fundamentally different.
This however cannot be said of sight. Man is more-than any primate a being of sight. So much so Herr Doctor Freud speculated (correctly) that as we evolved upright and learned to relay on sight rather than smell, so our sexual nature shifted from that of strong pheromones to one of delighting in the sights of primary and secondary sex traits. We more than any other sense relay on sight for survival, and use it for a nearly every activity of both the practical and the recreational. The sights ability to create pleasure in Man however is relatively limited. Most people don’t routinely partake in art or appreciation of nature, and when they do it is for a relatively short period of time. The sublime sights that we are able to behold can create euphoric or serene states of being, but due to the nature of visuals as often a constant thing, or something that changes very slowly, the mind grows bored of sights of nature or Greek Gods and moves on to other things.
Sight’s attachment to lust also makes a main source of pleasure derived from it momentary. Not only that, but because of the natural of sexual desire, the moment one gazes at a beautiful body, to the extent that the subject is overwhelmed by an appreciation of perceived beauty is the extent to which one desires for both physical and psychological reasons to initiate or have initiated sexual activity with the person who has a beautiful body. It becomes more a burden than a blessing, like witnessing a succulent taste that one wishes to put inside one’s mouth to experience but alas cannot. To the extent that one is lustful one cannot help but place one’s own self and identity within the framework of this lust; so the sense of sight produces a yearning and sense of identity, that none of the other senses produce. It is the pain produced by this yearning and not having, and this personalization of this desire that the Stoics among others preach lack of attachment and to have a disinterested view of all things. The fact that they and numerous others focus specifically on sex and not to attach one’s self to one’s food or drink for example, shows the degree to which human beings will do as I have described; if my words do not suffice then the experience(s) of every sexual being alive will be able to account.
Touch however is the saving grace of sight in relation to sexual matters. For though one cannot satisfy the lust and yearning created by sight through the medium of visuals alone, one can satisfy his desires through the mediation of touch – whether it be the touch of an extern body or one’s own. We unfortunately define ourselves foolishly by what people do to us rather than how we act towards others, and a clear example of this is in our sexual relations. The purely physical pleasure created by sex is not much if at all in any way greater than the pleasure created by masturbation. And yet human beings act in the foolish and laughable ways that they do, in desire and desperation, to go through great pains to have someone satisfy the lust that they could satisfy themselves and even more effectively. For without a second (or third, or fourth) person present a man or woman can pleasure him or herself however they please without the gaze of another and another to satisfy hampering the experience of pleasure. There is a limited degree of pleasure created through non-sexual forms of touch, but these are small in degree and in duration. However because they are not attached to appetite (though an itch in a way would be an exception to this) they can be appreciated all the more; for we are capable of appreciating even small pleasures greatly when no expectations or desires were attached to them and we feel disappointed or just merely accept larger pleasures when they are attached to sizable desires and expectations of satisfaction. Pleasure is negative in character as Schopenhauer describes, and pain positive. If you wish to know what I and he mean by this than do yourself a favor and read him.
Of all the senses, sound is the one that can produce the most reliable form of pleasure and is the one not attached to intrinsic desires or appetites. Music is something beloved the world over and appreciated by millions for hours on end daily. People listen to their radios, phones and MP3 players as they go about the monotony of their lives and as a way of passing the time when they are travelling. It is something that brings people together in “unselfish” or detached appreciation and enjoyment when the other senses are ones that we “selfishly” partake in. When we consume food or see a beautiful woman, we either devour the thing or wish to personally partake in the thing, perhaps to the exclusion of all others. This observation Schopenhauer made when he said art is that which allows us to detach from ourselves and “unselfishly” enjoy something without consideration of how it affects us. Painting has a very limited affect in this way however. Stories have a far stronger affect in this way, due both to their progressive nature (the stories change over time to keep us entertained while a painting remains stagnant) and because we are able to relate to the characters and be involved emotionally in their pain and concern for their welfare when it is hard to invoke such deep sentiments from poetry or sculpture.
The same is so for sounds as opposed to the other senses. The nature of sounds allow for rapid change when tastes by their nature are homogenous. At the very best one can flavor a meal or construct something where various things will be in one bite, but ultimately this will still be an experience that by its nature is static in nature. There will be slight change but the change is unimportant to the nature of the experience, which is a series of moments unrelated to the other, and as I’ve said is only to be dulled through persistent repetition. The sounds however can add very-well and naturally upon each other to create an entirely new experience if the sounds before it did not show arise.
We also are capable of having a far stronger emotional effect through sound than through the other senses. Unless one was starving one will likely not be brought to tears through taste. And though sight can provide great awe and a feeling of the sublime it is usually based more on our own internal condition than the nature of the sight itself. Sound however can invoke or stir within us that which was dormant. Music was used to illicit proper responses from Alex in A Clockwork Orange. True imagery was the main tool used, but only to display violence, not to be emotionally involved in said violence. Music is used in all of cinema, and without it cinema could never hope to be one-hundredth as effective of an art. It, along with the visual nature of film are the main reasons why people before movies to reading. A movie can make someone feel through auditory inducement what otherwise merely the descriptions of characters and events had to perform; and although novels are wonderful they rely on the brain’s own capacity to create its own sensory construction (imagination of the setting and description) which no matter how vivid the imagination is limited as opposed to the sensory input of all the senses.
Sound is also a blessing through the marvel of language (which can be visual but originally and most effectively is auditory in nature) which is the medium in which self-expression, communication and thought become possible. Without language human beings would not be any different than the other primates from which we are the descendants of. Though sight is the sense that allows us to survive, it is sound that allows us to be human and live a life of appreciation and enjoyment unattached to the lusts of the appetite attached intrinsically to the needs of this biological existence.