Steiner’s twelve senses can be grouped into three categories. He distinguished senses which relate to the perception of:
• your body: the senses of touch, of life, of movement, of balance
• the external world: smell, taste, sight, temperature
• the immaterial, spiritual world: hearing, speech, thought, ego
Will, feeling, thought
• The first four senses, the lowest, are called physical senses, or senses of the will because they are used to perceive one’s own body.
• The middle four senses are the senses of feeling. Observations made with these senses arouse feelings. These senses are also reflected in our language: a tastefully furnished house, a sourpuss, hard to swallow, heart-warming, cold thought.
• The last four senses, the highest, focus particularly on the other. These are the spiritual or knowledge senses and they are used in the observation of other people.
Your ears pick up your own sounds and those made by others, human or
animal. Unlike your eyes, your ears are positioned at the side of your head.
Your ears are open to sounds from your entire surroundings; it is not necessary to position the ears directly in front of a sound. You cannot close
your ears so that you are connected with the world of sound during all your
waking hours. You cannot help but hear them.
Listening – conscious hearing – requires you to be quiet. You must keep still
yourself and take a back seat, as it were. Listening is a social activity
focused on others, but it is also an internal activity. How often did your teacher say ‘sit still and listen carefully’?
Animals can turn their ears towards a source of the sound. Humans do not have the ability to ‘see’ with their ears. Animals hear well, but they do not listen, as they cannot step out of themselves and become silent.
The hearing organ can be divided into three parts. The external ear, consisting of the concha and the ear canal, captures sounds. The eardrum is situated at the end of the ear canal. The middle ear carries the sound further. The middle ear is made up of the tympanum which in turn contains the three ossicle bones (malleus, incus, and stapes), and the Eustachian tube which connects the tympanum with the throat. The Eustachian tube stays open when you swallow so that constant pressure is maintained on both sides of the tympanic membrane. The ossicle bones pick up vibrations in the air and pass these on from the tympanic membrane to the inner ear. The inner ear is located in the temporal bone and consists of a labyrinth, a cavity filled with fluid that is
made up of the vestibule, cochlea, and three semi-circular canals which are used to maintain balance. The cochlea is the actual hearing organ, where vibrations of the air are transformed back into sounds.
You can distinguish three types of sounds. First, there are the common, everyday sounds such as the rustling of leaves, the wind howling around the house, babbling water, and all sorts of mechanical noises such as cars, creaking doors, and so on. The second type of sound is music, which is made up of sounds and tones. The third type of sound is human speech.
You can observe three aspects of every sound, regardless of which type it is: the volume, the pitch and the tone colour. You can also observe the distance to the source of the sound since the sound does not reach both ears simultaneously. The second ear will hear the sound 0.001 second later so that you can estimate where the sound originated. Accurately assessing the distance and direction of a sound is a matter of experience.
Hearing declines with age, but to compensate we are born with a very wide range of hearing. Children can hear 11 octaves, and even in old age, you can still hear 10 octaves. Looking at an object gives you an idea of its exterior. Listening to an object gives you an idea of what is within. Often, for example, it is difficult to distinguish a glass pane from a plastic one by sight alone. If
you tap the pane, however, the sound will tell you which it is right away. You can also hear if a plate or a bell is cracked, even if you cannot see the damage. Listening to people can also reveal information about their inner lives. People might look smart, but if they feel bad inside it is immediately apparent in their
voice. Someone’s intonation betrays whether they are sad, happy, or excited.
The resonation of sound by objects is always the sum of its parts, of substance, and shape.
In order to resonate, objects must be solid and free-standing. A free-standing copper bell rings, but a bell standing on the ground is like a soft chunk of clay: it makes no sound. Sound is considered an unearthly (immaterial) phenomenon.
We have a very fine perception of music and sound, and we can feel intimately connected with tones and melodies. High tones are generally perceived as clear, light, sharp and distinct, while low tones are perceived as dark, full, warm, big and less distinct. A final point of interest is the relationship between sight and hearing. When you look at something, you can hear it better. This does not only apply to speech, but also to music. If you were to listen to a
philharmonic symphony and keep your eyes on the oboe, you would hear that instrument more clearly than the others. If you then switch your gaze to the clarinet, you would hear it more clearly, and so on.
Stand somewhere, indoors or out, and describe all the sounds you hear. What feelings do the sounds evoke? You can do this exercise with your eyes open or blindfold. Does it make a difference in what you experience?
This is an exercise for two people, one of whom is blindfold. Stand 5 meters apart. The person who is not blindfold must whisper something, articulating well, and the blindfolded person must repeat what the other whispered. Then remove the blindfold, so that the listener can see the speaker. Again, the
listener must repeat what the speaker whispered. What is the result? What was the listener’s experience?
This exercise is for a group. One person sits behind a sheet or screen. Out of sight of the other subjects, this person makes sounds using various objects. For example, silver, lead, iron, and wooden spoons can be used to tap objects such as a plate, a cracked plate, a glass, a porcelain cup, a plastic beaker, a free-standing bell, a bell on a table, a small bell, and so on. The rest of the group must try to identify the objects by the sounds.
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