Which human sense is most developed?

First, how might someone compare human senses for importance and development relative to both human senses to each other and human senses to the senses of other animals? I’ll try a few ways in this thread but feel free to suggest something better if you can.
Whether one is using the traditional notion of 5 senses or more, which human sense is most developed? The loss of which sense is the greatest impairment?

Which human sense has the most nerve endings dedicated to it?

Which human sense can make the fastest and/or most precise distinctions? Which senses stimulate the human brain most? Which senses is the human brain more dedicated to?
Compared to most animals or other mammals, which human senses compare most favorably? Most unfavorably?
If you’d like to add anything else informative about human senses or senses in general, please do so.

I believe that for humans, and many other primates, something like 90% (no cite) of the information we perceive comes to us through our sight, versus smell, hearing or touch etc… Humans can live just fine without sight, but I’m guessing blindness would be the hardest thing to adjust to if you lived most of your life sighted. With regard to our ‘nontraditional senses’, whatever they are, I have no idea.

For other animals it would differ greatly. Dogs have a much better sense of smell than humans do, dolphins and bats use echolocation, fish have a lateral line etc…

Smell is supposed to be one of the most primal senses in that you can clearly see how the eye is highly adapted and probably underwent numerous evolutionary changes based on the animal and environment, whereas the sense of smell and how it works probably hasn’t had to change that much.

For humans, the answer is so overwhelmingly sight, by every measure, that I’m not sure how anyone could even think otherwise. We use a major portion of our brains for processing sight. We gain more information from sight than from the others. Anything the other senses can do can be replaced by sight. Our sight is better than most other mammals’, and it’s the only one of our senses for which that’s true.

Considering ourselves simply as mammals - we have trichromatic vision, which is unusual, though not unique among mammals. We also have better visual acuity than most of class Mammalia. For a lot of mammals that are nocturnal, they have a tapetum lucidum, which gives them better night vision at the cost of losing visual acuity. Of course, our sense of smell is about as bad as it gets for a mammal. And our hearing is not good.

It depends on what you consider to be the sense. If it’s just the sense organs themselves, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin, then eyes are definitely it. If you consider the processing that goes on in the brain after receiving impulses from the sense organs, then it’s probably sight also.

Ask any marketing/advertising executive, without a doubt its the visual images that sells products. Same thing goes for sex appeal, you can sound, smell and feel as smooth as anyone else but it’s looks that brings home the prize.

Depending on the specific human, either entitlement or indignation. :smiley:

Do animals other than humans have a sense of irony?

While I don’t dispute your claim, there’s something to be said in the favor of hearing though: while I can’t exactly remember, much less from memory with my color box reproduce the hue of the sash of Frans Banning Cocq in Rembrandt’s painting, I can readily remember and to some degree of accuracy reproduce the sounds of, say, the Czech ř in svařák or the Turkish ı in balık, even though I don’t speak Czech or Turkish, and neither phoneme occurs in my native language.
As a matter of fact, most languages have less than ten words for colors, while the number of phonemes in almost all languages is more than the double.
It’s also fairly easy to remember the tune your neighbor whistled while waiting for the bus yesterday; it’s much harder to remember the colors of his/her clothes!

I’d imagine it would be pretty disorienting to lose all sense of touch (which I’m assuming includes the ability to feel pressure), maybe even more so than losing sight.

You wouldn’t be able to feel pain, so reacting to things that cause physical damage would be severely impaired.

I’m trying to envision something as simple as sitting down in a chair. I imagine it would be difficult without the tactile feedback of compressing butt cheeks. “Okay, bending my knees, bend more, bend more, okay, I stopped moving, I must be fully on the chair now”.

Would sex even be enjoyable?!

While I’ll agree that touch is very important, pain is not a subset of it.

One factoid that’s often presented to illustrate the sensitivity of the human eye is the distance at which it can detect a candle flame. I use the term “factoid” advisedly, because the actual number given varies widely depending on your source; some sources say it’s as much as 30 miles. A study by some folks at MIT suggests the real number is about 1.6 miles – still pretty impressive, I’d say.


Your two claims contradict each other. If there are really only ten words for colors in English, then surely you can remember which of those ten the sash is. But actually, we can distinguish so many different colors that we can’t even name all of them (though we’ve still named far more than ten), which is the origin of your difficulty. By contrast, even though a mere 163 characters are sufficient to cover nearly the full range of phonemes in all human languages combined, there are probably plenty of them that you can’t even distinguish hearing them one right after the other.

Hearing is almost certainly the second-most important human sense, but it’s still a fair distance behind sight. And even if you combine five or so different senses under the label of “touch”, it’s still behind both of them.

I don’t think there is a contradiction: as I see it, it is more a question of which sense attaches iself most to memory.

Did you come up with the right answer immediately without looking up the picture (which, I guess, you have seen reproductions of as many times as I have)? I didn’t know it myself until I wrote the comment! My best guess would have been “something light, in stark contrast with the dark clothing; maybe white; maybe yellow, light red or light blue”.
While I don’t dispute that any human with normal senses can tell the difference of as many colors or more as of distinct sounds, I believe the latter have more of a tendency to stay in memory. And I think this has probably something to do with our language being primarily an audible one; and how evolution has worked on it. Most things we remember via words, i.e. sequences of sounds; sounds only are remembered directly!

Since mother nature tries random things for no particular reason, I thought that I would do a search on whether four-color vision people exist.

From that I learned that:

  1. The word is tetrachromacy (not quad)
  2. Mammals used to mostly have it, but lost it over time
  3. One human (cDa29) has been proven to have tetrachromacy.
  4. It doesn’t appear to confer any notable advantage. She is just able to distinguish between ever-finer levels of colors.
  5. Ultraviolet light is excluded from our vision by the lense and other artifacts (maybe we’re too large for the frequency to make it through our eyeballs to the back?) so it’s not possible to extend human vision in that direction.

No, but though I’ve probably seen the picture before, I’ve never made any particular note of it. Likewise, there are many famous songs that I’ve probably heard before but couldn’t hum.

The trouble with comparing colour gamut to phonemes is that you are not comparing the full sensor. We have two ears, but 240 million rod cells and 12 million cone cells. Now you can’t get the full gamut with a single, or really one each of the three colour, cone cells. But as a dominant thing, the point about the eye isn’t just colour. It has spatial extent.

Our ability to distinguish colours is pretty remarkable given the primitive sensors, and the ridiculous manner in which they work. But importantly, we can only see one colour at a point. There are an infinite number of ways that you can combine light of different frequencies to get the same perceived colour. Our ears are not so limited. We have comparatively ridiculous spectral analysis occurring in our ears. We do a spectral analysis across 10 octaves of frequencies, compared to our eyes slightly less than one. With only two sensors the ear has enough capability to perform simple spatial location. They eyes have quarter of a million sensors, but they are used very differently.

Curiously, it would appear that for human interaction, it is hearing that is the more important. Blind people can still converse. The deaf become isolated, and find it harder to interact. Until the advent of sign language, and a culture of signing they had a very hard time of things. With signing they become fully functional. So, perhaps it isn’t true to say hearing is quite so important here, but rather the ability to communicate with the same level of nuance as speech.