Eye ear what you’re saying, but eye fEAR what you’re doing

Commentary based on the article Biases of the Ear and Eye, by Daniel Chandler

All human beings have two eyes and two ears, but only one heart as the saying goes; therefore, they are meant to be able to see and hear. Daniel Chandler, in his article Biases of the Ear and Eye, discusses the differences and hierarchy between the written word and spoken word.

According to Ong, “Oral speech is fully natural to human beings in the sense that every human being in every culture who is not physiologically or psychologically impaired learns to talk”(p. 81). Therefore, human beings are naturally meant to hear, one of the five senses that we possess. However, as cited in Chandler (1994), “Whilst ranking reason over the senses, amongst the senses Plato accorded primacy to sight (Synnott 1993, p. 131). And when Aristotle decided that we had five senses, he explictly ranked sight over hearing (Synott 1993, pp. 132, 270; Classen 1993, pp. 2-3). In the first sentence of his Metaphysics, Aristotle wrote, ‘Of all the senses, trust only the sense of sight’. This general bias in favour of sight and the eye has persisted in Western cultures over the centuries.” It is interesting to note that Plato accorded primacy to sight even though in the Phaedrus he “saw the technology of writing as an external threat. It was a threat to the importance of human memory. ‘Those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of on their own internal resources’” (Chandler, 1994). It is clear to assume that while Plato felt that writing, which requires the use of the eye, was going to have detrimental effects on the human brain, he also felt that sight was the most important sense. In our culture today, I believe that when posed the question of which of the five senses people would least like to lose; eyesight would be a prominent answer.

If one puts eyesight and hearing to the test, which one do you think should be ranked higher? Think about the following scenario: you are watching a scary movie. Does covering your eyes make the movie less frightening? Probably. Does plugging your ears instead of covering your eyes make the movie even less scary? My answer to this question is yes; I have tried it, and it works! Sound is often what wakes us up at night, whether actual sounds or sounds created in our heads through our dreams. It is the sounds we hear that cause fear, unrest, or even happiness. Changing the song on the radio can change the way in which one feels. Music directors are specific people on a movie set who “researches, obtains rights to, and supplies songs for a production” (IMDb, 2012). Choosing the appropriate music or sound effects is an important task when making video. In terms of literacy, hearing, which is a component to oral speech is a sense that comes more natural to the human being. According to Ong, “[b]y contrast with natural, oral speech, writing is completely artificial. There is no way to write ‘naturally’. Oral speech is fully natural to human beings in the sense that every human being in every culture who is not physiologically or psychologically impaired learns to talk” (2002, p. 81). Therefore, because human beings are meant to talk, the sense of hearing should be ranked higher than eyesight.

In terms of the law, the eye is rated higher than the ear. When comparing hearsay, “a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted” (Kovera, Park & Penrod, 1992, p.703), to eyewitness testimony, what the eye sees is more valid than what the ear hears. According to Kovera, Park & Penrod, “The principal reason for excluding hearsay is the fear that the jury will be incapable of accurately evaluating the declarant’s credibility” (1992, p.703). However, there have been studies and countless trials where eyewitness memory has been the reason for wrongful sentences. Denise Winterman, from BBC News Magazine, wrote an article, Why we can’t trust what we see?, based on a TV documentary about memory which involved the Open University, the BBC and Greater Manchester Police (GMP). This research done for this project documentary has proved “the extent of how fallible the memory can be,” (Winterman, 2010).

Memory, which can be created visually through the eye or aurally through the ear (as well as through touch, smell and taste), is an important concept to understand, especially as a teacher. Teachers need to consider how their students learn best. Some are visual learners, while others are auditory or even kinesthetic learners. Chandler’s article compares the concepts of graphocentrism, phonocentrism, and logocentrism. These theories, each of which has valid arguments, are helpful to understand because the various learners that any one teacher encounters will connect with at least one of the theories. One theory will never have all of the answers. So when Socrates recounted Thamus’ statement that “this discovery of yours [(of letters)] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves” (Plato, n.d.), he did not take into account the various learning styles individuals may have. In my classroom, each student learns various strategies to aid their memory, but then must learn to choose the strategy that best suits their own learning style.


BBC. (2010, April 14). Can YOU spot the murderer? – Eyewitness – BBC Two. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_QbTX2qS10

Chandler, D. (1994). Biases of the Ear and Eye: “Great Divide” Theories, Phonocentrism, Graphocentrism & Logocentrism [Online]. Retrieved, 22 September, 2012 from http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/litoral/litoral.html

IMDb. (2012). Movie Terminology Glossary: M. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/glossary/M

Kovera, M.B., Park, R.C., & Penrod, S. (1992). Jurors’ perceptions of eyewitness and hearsay evidence. 76 Minnesota Law Review 703. Retrieved from http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/mnlr76&div=33&id=&page

Ong, W. J. (2002). Writing restructures consciousness. Orality and literacy (pp. 77–114). Routledge.

Plato, B.J. (n.d.) The Phaedrus. Retrieved from http://www.units.muohio.edu/technologyandhumanities/plato.htm

Winterman, D. (2010, April 15).Why we can’t trust what we see? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8617945.stm

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