Easiest to live without isn’t so tricky with a process of elimination, but the answer surprises me a little.
Basically, taste is the least functional one, and the only one I can imagine simplifying life if you didn’t have it. Not caring what food tasted like would give me the option of saving money on fancy food, and just buying a straightforward, cheap but balanced diet, and just shovelling it into my face as necessary.
It would still be sad though. I love food and tastiness. I also imagine that the instinctiveness with which our brain seeks nutrition (cravings etc) would be a sad thing to lose, and my eyes would still make my mouth water.
But it’s just slightly less dangerous a thing to lose than the others. Hearing and sight have such a huge impact on how we deal with the world that they’d have to stay. As the biggest and clearest streams of information we have they remain pretty fundamental. Losing touch would be to lose sex and safety to a huge extent. Again the whole experience of interacting with the world is hugely tied in with the way we feel things.
Smell is an odd one. It’s subtle. It impacts your brain a lot more than makes sense though, and I think that’s worth hanging on to. I’d worry that everything would seem fake without a smell.
And holding on to smell would mean still getting some pleasure out of eating. (In fact, taste and smell are apparently so bound up with each other that losing one would have a huge impact on the other, which unbalances things in ways I can’t account for).
So the easiest to drop would probably be taste (followed by smell).
As for the hardest?
My stock answer would be hearing. Music is just too important to me. It’s probably easier to live without sound than without sight on a practical level; but I’d find it harder to make the adjustments if something so profoundly important to my emotional life was missing.
On the other hand, I’d save a hell of a lot of money, and perhaps stop locking myself away in sound so often.
The other thing I started thinking about though, was how profound an impact touch has on so much of our lives without really being so obvious. Without the feedback from our sensory neurons, we’d find all sorts of movement incredibly tricky. Judging how to walk and hold and interact physically with anything would become incredibly tricky.
And according to a few things hinted at in this presentation, all sense of self could collapse? (Possibly a gross misrepresentation, but that’s why I’m not a scientist. It makes the room for gross misrepresnation much more spacious.)
The truth is we are made up of huge torrents of incoming information. We’d learn to live without some of them, but that life would be some what unimaginable.
People deal with these losses all the time.
People are strong.
Illustration by Emma.