Understanding Deafness

Deaf people have been involuntarily silent for ages. They were rarely mentioned in history books, casually seen in old-time media, superficially tackled in arts and fiction, and generally ignored by society. Like many minorities, now and more than ever they are becoming known, visible and active. They have their own schools, societies and culture, that even some of "the hearing" are curious to know what life is like to be born deaf, and how it sounds to one who never "heard of" it. The ancients once said, "wisdom is greater when grown in silence and tranquility"; so are the lessons we can learn from those naturally silent people.

How the Deaf Brain Works

There are more questions than answers about the deaf and their life, that, if answered, can be of great value to the hearing and the deaf:

  • If one is deaf, is it quiet and peaceful to live without noise, or dull and lonesome to never listen to music or freely have a conversation with anyone they like, from the hearing majority (even so if one diligently learns to lip-read and speak)?
  • How does the deaf brain work when all it has as a language—to store, process and produce ideas—is body signs, or soundless letters on a screen, paper or lips?
  • To what extent are the deaf visual thinkers, thinking in terms of shapes instead of words, and accordingly have some brain areas more active and developed than others, to meet the need for facing a deadly silent world, with many lurking dangers and sneaking strangers? Famous visual thinkers (Einstein, Edison, Churchill, Yeats, Carroll, etc.) could also think verbally, speaking and writing down their thoughts, albeit less efficiently than verbal thinkers. But deaf people never heard sounds, the simplest unit of speech, to associate them with words!
  • Is their intelligence type unknown yet, misunderstood, or undervalued? Is it true that complete verbal disability limits general brain skills, and that's why we rarely hear of a born-deaf genius; or is it just bias and the severe social isolation they suffer that led to such assumption? (However, there seem to be more intelligent deaf people becoming famous recently, in visual arts, social work, and even writing.)


Benefits of Deafness

What is interesting about being deaf for us to learn? Although it's both interesting and enlightening to find answers to the above questions, sympathy or curiosity alone isn't enough motive to learn about another person's life. More compelling is our fear of becoming like them: growing deaf ourselves by frequent exposure to high-decibel noise, aging, and accidents that can easily happen and dramatically change one's life. Still, fear is a negative motive, whereas a more compelling "positive" motive is envy: we envy the deaf sometimes their immunity from noise and disturbance that many of us suffer, affecting our mood, focus, and health, esp. those living in noisy environments, in a growingly urbanized overpopulated world.

Disability as a Blessing

Losing one of the five senses is less tragic than losing one's common sense. Thanks to the great capacity of human brain and the data available to it, it has replaced and outperformed many of the functions formerly performed by those animal senses. Still, we use, abuse and overuse our senses, not out of need, but for a compulsive illusive urge. They can immediately offer us a temporary physical thrill, almost always available; yet, the tribute of being dependent on senses, or rather the primitive brain operating them and manufacturing the consequent endorphin rush, is very high, as it usually develops into a form of addiction.

What we learn from people with disabilities is far greater than the mere knowledge of a different lifestyle. Losing a physical sense or ability, temporarily or permanently, is better than having it sometimes. Many intellectuals and ascetics throughout history realized the price humans daily pay for their shameful slavery to senses. Hence they learned to curb their animal nature by their superior human one, and their senses by their thoughts, making the former submissive to the latter. Meanwhile, they cherished and refined other types of pleasures mainly offered by the higher brain, with no or little help from senses.

Most of us rightfully believe life is solely about happiness; yet some grow quickly disappointed when they see their search for happiness end with pain, fatigue and boredom, after a short-felt ephemeral pleasure, instead of a long-lasting happiness. They mostly sought physical pleasure. Those who don't learn from their mistakes keep going in circles, but those who learn their lesson move forward, searching for happiness elsewhere. Instead of sensual pleasures, they seek spiritual and intellectual ones, mystic and scientific, ending with love for both, or finding that both are one.

Among the many benefits of hearing control, or voluntary deafness, is being apathetic or ascetic toward sounds and turning our discussions into civil, more fruitful ones. We won't shout to force our thoughts on others or to intimidate them. Our thoughts will find their way smoothly to others' minds by how much sense they make, not by their pitch, volume or length. We won't be affected, disturbed or distracted by the intonation others use, consciously or not, to cover a weak argument or sell a wrong or worthless idea. Even if they are rude enough to interrupt our speech turn, over-speak, or play other sorts of linguistic games to unfairly gain ground ... still, all the while, our mind will be doing what it's best good at, faithfully committed to its original job: thinking, not fighting. He who mistreats Truth, Truth runs away from him.

And just as we calm down and our ears become less easily disturbed, so do our eyes, becoming less deceived by others' facial expressions or body language they try to hide the truth behind. The benefits of inner silence far exceeds controlling one's sense of hearing, as it affects the rest of senses and overall calmness, that we badly need for its rewarding mood boost, brain empowerment and better physical functioning.

• Low-cost living! No need for living in an upscale leafy neighborhood with other sensitive peace-loving citizens. No pickiness about choosing a hotel room, office location, restaurant seat, etc., away from noise sources, as a precondition for one's vacation, work, pastime, or simplest recreational activity. Life is more fun when we "keep it simple."

• Less stress-related health problems for people with sensitive ears—sleep disorders, high blood pressure/cholesterol/heart rates, etc. and the rest of adrenaline damages to our health—, while releasing and benefiting from the calm hormones' power of wound healing, improving immunity, increasing the oxygen inhaled, and slowing down ageing of cells (they too will live peacefully, under no pressure to fight to noise or take part, with other body defensive cells/toxics, in pushing away intruders).

Better mood stability, appreciation of one's life, and a deeper sense of well-being. Life is more cherished when lived in peace, not fight. Our improved psychological status will give us the momentum and energy to go on, making Earth a a better place for us and others.

More focus on activities requiring higher brain skills: reading, writing, arguing, studying, designing, inventing, fixing, repairing, etc. Any of these can be purely mental, or requiring a body-mind balance only a calm wise arbiter can master.


Living with Deafness


It's more challenging for music lovers and social butterflies to ignore music or conversation, respectively, when either is forced on them while doing another activity, or sleeping or resting. Unfortunately, we must ignore speech, music and other sounds, partially if not completely sometimes, because of the inherent tendency we have for hating the opposite of what we love, be it music, art, or any form of beauty; which hatred gnaws away at the well-being of its harborer. A pleasant smell, melody or scenery can turn into a source of misery when we can no more find it, missing it, or mourning it, while struggling to cope with the opposite of it (noise, ugliness and offensiveness) insensitively invading our senses.

Those pleasure sources cause pain by their mere presence when they intrude on us at the wrong time and place, when we least need or like them. We live at the mercy of our habits, likes and dislike, that we'd better choose our preferences and control our habits in advance, before they control us, by favoring more stable, endurable, renewable sources of pleasure. Seeking happiness needs some work, not just following one's heart, instinct or senses. A little labor at the beginning of a habit creation, to better master and enjoy, is worth toiling. It's love labor.

It's easier to train our ear to be apathetic toward all sounds, than to select and filter them. Both evolutionary functions of music and conversation are slowly dying out, giving place to other, more developed forms of communication, learning and entertainment.

The challenge is even greater for blind people, who mostly rely on hearing for communication, where ignoring sounds altogether means complete isolation from the world and many consequent risks. There are ways to cope with such a life (where you cannot see, and can/would not hear) but they are limited, because of the rarity of deaf-blind people around the globe, who must basically depend on touching alone for communication and perception. Only less than one hundred persons alive are born deaf-blind. And those who "grow" deaf and blind, by ageing or otherwise, try to cope with their life, using surviving strategies they had learnt when they could still hear or see ... until they eventually die (by the time they become 100% deaf and blind, they are usually old and develop other health problems).

Having no eyesight while refusing to use one's ears because of noise makes matters more complicated. Thus for the blind, they need to develop a habit of "filtering" what they hear, focusing on the meaning instead of paying attention to every sound or its tone, length and volume, which usually adds little to the meaning itself.

• Children (and animals) have undeveloped linguistic skills that they must rely on other non-verbal means of communication. For this, we must provide them with a good environment that doesn't deprive them of the sensual pleasure or medium, without relying much on it either. In teaching language, semantics should be prioritized over phonetics, as the former is uniquely human, while the latter is a mere remnant of our animal origin. We needn't spend our life like an insomniac dog springing at the faintest sound. Life is a gift, not a guarding shift.

People who work in jobs depending on hearing are at risk of losing or messing up their work if they ignore their hearing sense. Rather, like the blind, they should train themselves to have a sort of a mind-valve to switch one's hearing on and off according to situation.

Seeing instead of Hearing

The fields of knowledge and variety of jobs that depend on hearing are fewer than those depending on seeing. Generally, seeing is more vital for our existence.

Until we develop artificial eyes, we will keep using the human eye in many contexts: hospitals, factories, traffic, market, banks, transactions, office, computers, documents, etc. On the other hand, hearing is needed in less contexts: music and audio-visual arts, sound physics, phonetics, medicine (e.g. sonar/stethoscope diagnosis), and other specific contexts like detecting machine disorder, voice stress analysis, changes in wind and thunderstorms, etc.

We will continue depending on hearing whenever there are physical obstacles we can't get or see through. Hearing will always play a temporary role until seeing takes over and outperforms its job. Nano-cameras and nano-computers will eventually replace sound-detecting devices we use for better discovering the world.  

Hearing and seeing exchange roles sometimes, replacing one another in a number of fields: reading vs. listening; writing vs. recording; x-ray and MRI vs. ultrasound, etc., with seeing usually more efficient. 

Although one completes the other, either has an opposite nature evolving/devolving independently of the other. Ironically, losing either has opposite causes: unclear sights require straining the eyes which weakens vision; whereas unclear sounds require listening carefully which benefits hearing. However, avoiding bad sights is much easier than avoiding bad sounds.

It won't be long before technology allows both the deaf and the blind to hear and see as properly as the rest of population, either by developing fully efficient artificial ears and eyes, or correcting the natural ones. The speed of either technology is growing fast, with the hearing alternatives (devices, implants, surgeries) faster than the seeing ones.

Despite seeing's vitality and superiority over hearing, when it is lacked mother nature puts a great pressure on the human brain to find alternatives, to communicate one's needs and emotions, enjoy nature and arts differently, and, above all, avoid unseen dangers. The huge challenge blind people face makes them, possibly, more intelligent and sociable than the deaf, esp. that such challenge had been recorded into their genes over millions of years of evolution, in every "blind minority" of mammals.

Some statistics show that composers have a slightly higher IQ than painters — 145 : 140 — as in Cox's famous study. (Not including Renaissance Masters such as Michelangelo or da Vinci, whose genius was universal; besides these are only average figures, i.e., they do not represent high musical genius either such as Mozart or Bach.) We are more familiar with names of famous blind people throughout history, than those of famous deaf people, if any. It's possible that there were equally intelligent deaf people living in the past, whose social isolation by society, for their unfortunate deafness, made them less known to us and less interactive with the rest of society. Only recently, thanks to modern technologies, sign language, deaf culture and deaf societies ... we knew who they are.


Living with Noise

Speech-Silence Dichotomy