Monday, November 27, 2006

Sevi Chelvam

This post is about the above Thirukural. I learnt this one when I was very young and it has always bothered me that Thrivalluvar picked out the sense of hearing as the supreme of all the senses we possess. The reason I was worried may be summarized as follows. Under most circumstances, one does not encounter great people or great thoughts "live" so to speak. Most great thinkers and their ideas I know through books. So, I thought that sight and the ability to read, the gift of language was most important in the advancement of one's maturity and knowledge.

But now, I have come to understand the choice of hearing as the supreme sense in the following way. The first, and probably the context directly relevant to Thiruvalluvar's thoughts, is that one understands and retains better the words that we hear rather than the words that we read. I have not yet sorted out why this is, but by empirical observation have concluded that this is indeed true. Perhaps the reason is that reading requires a greater application than hearing. The other context is a rather Freudian one. It is an accepted fact these days that conscious thought is the exception rather than the norm. Most of the processing in our brain and the origin of most of our actions is indeed unconscious. And clearly one can hear unconsciously, but one cannot read unconsciously. This ties in with the "greater application" statement made earlier. Hence what you hear is clearly the predominant part of what influences your thinking and actions. I don't know why I did not see this for many years.

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