The use of our senses in survival and preparedness

Rene Descartes wrote: “The senses deceive from time to time, and it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once.”

A careful hunter knows to double check what he sees in his sights before he pulls the trigger. His vision relays movement, form, and color to a buck fevered brain. Moose! He takes a breath and double checks what he thinks he has seen and discovers it is actually another person walking in the woods.

“Better to miss the shot, then kill a person,” he thinks.

This happened to someone I know who used to guide and teach people to hunt. He used it as an example of how even a seasoned hunter is capable of making a mistake and that mistakes are not an option when you could kill a person and not what you are hunting.

This incident is an example of what Descartes wrote about our senses and deception. Our senses work both ways. They help us perceive the present while also being capable of misinforming us at the same time.

We have five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch that gather information about our environment. This information is then interpreted by our brain.

Our understanding of this information is based on the lessons from our previous experience and information that comes from a combination of each of our senses.

This process produces information to which we respond almost automatically. Like other animals, this sensory information is significant to our survival. 

Sense dominance varies between animals. Hunters recognize this in their prey.

Each sense provides different information, with our dominant sense being sight. Hearing is our most sensitive sense because of the range upon which it operates.

Smell and taste are the oldest of our senses and are needed for avoiding danger, mating and feeding.

Age and illness can blunt taste and smell. Loss of smell affects appetite rendering food less appealing. This is a contributing factor to poor nutrition in the aged.

When we prepare for emergencies or disasters, our senses and how they work to protect us should be considered.

For example, is it better to use scented products for personal care over unscented during an emergency?

If you are trapped, perhaps the smell of your deodorant or cologne might reach the olfactory senses of the rescuers faster?

Or is it dangerous to use scented products if you are hiding from a predator during a crisis and he can smell you?

Smell alerts us to the presence of others, tells us if food is bad or if food is cooking on some campfire miles away or simmering on the stove of the house next door.

In a disaster the smell of our food or the food next door can draw a human or animal predator to our position. 

Our garbage can also leave a smell that might attract unwanted visitors including rodents. It is a big issue in surviving long term disasters especially in an urban area. 

It is better to plan for this problem before a disaster happens. Consider the food debris left inside a can or which foods smell up the garbage the fastest.

How do you rinse a can if water is being rationed?

Do you use a can crusher to compact garbage and then seal the remains before disposal? How do you eliminate garbage when there may not be services and discretion is necessary? 

Sight is critical for nonverbal communication. If you are approached by someone, what they communicate can guide your decision to trust them or not. Think of how that can apply to navigating a long duration crisis.

Sight is how we navigate, hunt and survey the world around us. We can see the sky take on a greenish cast before a tornado. We can see that our vegetables are ready to harvest.

If our vision is or became impaired during a crisis, how can we plan ahead for that when constructing our preparedness? Are night vision tools something to include in our preps to help us see in the dark?

Does our security preparedness include the ability to black out our home? Have we checked in the evening to see how far away a single candle or light can illuminate our home? Can we reduce our visibility or disappear from the sight and attention of predators in a crisis?

Taste is a digestive aid and is part of the way we can determine if something is good to eat. Consider the SAS instructions for all the steps used to determine if something is safe to eat in the wild.

Hearing is part of how we communicate with other people and our environment, especially at night when our vision doesn’t work as well.

A twig snapping can signal the presence of another human at night. Bird song that suddenly stops can also signal the same presence during the day.

Hearing can inform us that someone is in distress. It can warn us of an impending disaster as in the thundering sound of a storm or tornado.

Touch can tell us if someone is ill with a fever. It warns us if our environment is too hot or too cold and protects us from overheating and from freezing. It prevents us from picking up a hot pan and burning ourselves.

We are alerted to pain through our sense of touch. If we are examining ourselves or another person for injury during a disaster, think of how touch plays a major role in correct assessment.

I use touch to feel when a cake is done or if my bread dough is kneaded enough.

This is a small sampling of examples of how our five senses become critical components to consider when planning or organizing our preparedness.

A final point about our five senses is to consider the power of our senses to elevate our mood and well being.

How might a crisis impact our psychological well being? Why not prepare and construct a “five sense first aid kit” to bolster well being during a disaster?


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