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Did You Know Your Most Important Sense Depends on the Language You Speak?

What’s the sense that you can describe with the greatest accuracy? We’re going to go ahead and guess that you answered “sight.” And then “hearing.” Maybe “taste” or “touch” is next, with “smell” coming in at the bottom. How can we predict that with so much confidence? It’s not because that’s how the human mind works. It’s because you’re reading this in English. According to research, the sense you consider most important depends on the language you speak.

In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the ancient philosopher suggests a certain hierarchy of the senses (based on the false assumption that we only have five). Sight is at the top, he said, followed by hearing, smell, touch, and taste. You might disagree with him about the specific order of those senses — smell, in particular, is notoriously hard to describe in English — but you’re probably pretty comfortable saying that sight and hearing are the two senses humans use most frequently to understand the world they navigate. Unfortunately, you’d be completely wrong.

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