The Five Senses

Except through a birth defect of some kind, we humans are all born with the five basic senses – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. I’ve recently been thinking about which one would be most difficult to lose. I’m a little bit afraid of the dark, so losing my sight and being constantly in ‘the dark’ would be scary for me. Because music has always been an important part of my life and has, often, the ability to link directly into my emotions, I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to never hear music again, much less other sounds of daily life. Honestly, I give great kudos to those who are paralyzed and unable to feel touch, since touch, more than anything else, connects us to another person. I have always thought that, if I had to choose to give up one sense, it would either be smelling or tasting.

But now, since those two senses are so affected by the COVID-19 virus and I’ve heard some people who have experienced that lose talk about the affect, I am taking a second look at these senses as being more important than I previously thought them to be.

We are attracted to any given food item by three basic things – its appearance, its taste and its texture. For example, there are foods you could put on my plate that might have a really good taste and a nice texture, but if it is visually unappealing, I’m pretty apt not to try it to find out. I remember reading a study many years ago now where the study group was divided in two, and half of the group was blindfolded. A plate of food was served to all of them that included mashed potatoes, cooked rice and cheese hunks. But….the foods were all dyed or decorated to make them visually unappealing. The potatoes were dyed green, the rice was dyed red, and the cheese, before it was cut into hunks, was ‘decorated’ with food coloring to make it look like there were mold spots. Obviously, the group who were blindfolded had no issue eating any of the foods, but those who would see the food in front of them either refused to take a taste, or did so with the preconceived notion that, because of how it looked, it wasn’t going to taste good, and those who did try it were 98% certain that it didn’t taste “right” in some way. That certainly gives credence to how powerful the appearance of our food is to our desire to eat it.

I know this to be true by this example: I love rice. I can eat cooked rice by itself with butter and salt, flavored rice dishes, rice mixed in with hamburger, etc. I can, with some difficulty, eat rice in a soup. But if you put a bowl of rice pudding in front of me, there is no way I’m going to even try it. I hope I don’t ruin anyone’s enjoyment of rice pudding by saying this, but rice pudding looks to me like maggots in slime, and I just can’t get away from the visual enough to put it into my mouth!

Taste is, of course, highly subjective to each individual. Texture can also be subjective to each individual, though not as decisive as taste.

I finally acknowledged in this past year that I tend to eat to satisfy my taste buds. I don’t have to feel hungry in any way, but suddenly, there is a desire for a specific taste that comes into my mind and is very difficult to get rid of without indulging. Texture can also play a part in that desire. In fact, I think texture would still play a part in what I choose to eat even if I couldn’t taste it. Having struggled with my weight all of my life, I picture myself eating all of the healthy things that I don’t like by taste because taste wouldn’t matter. Trust me, I’ve played with the idea of being hypnotized to suddenly crave things like salad and raw vegetables and suddenly dislike the taste of salt. But being hypnotized wouldn’t take away my taste buds. Nonetheless, I think that’s the sense I’ve most be willing to lose.

But, what is the good of letting a small piece of dark chocolate melt on your tongue if you can’t taste it? I don’t eat a lot of chocolate (except for my recent addiction to Whoppers) and usually can enjoy just one taste; I’ve even turned down the offer of a piece of chocolate because I didn’t really want it. Imagine chewing on a perfectly prepared bite of steak and having it taste like nothing? What would become the real point of eating if you can’t taste anything?

Okay, maybe losing my sense of smell would be better. Other than inhaling the scent of lilacs or hyacinths, I can’t say I’d greatly miss being able to smell flowers. Although, I really do like the smell of freshly mown grass. But I’d also lose being able to smell more obnoxious and unpleasant smells. It would make me the perfect person to change a messy diaper, after all! I’m okay with never smelling a dead skunk again. I can sometimes smell a rain storm in the air before it starts, and that’s a pleasant smell to me as well. But, over all, I think the sense of smell offers the most equal list of good and bad smells, which makes it the easiest to lose.

I can’t imagine losing the other three remaining senses. When babies are born deaf and/or blind, they never realize that they’ve lost something because they’ve never really had it. But to have been given those senses and then having one taken away, how does one ever get past that loss? I know that it happens regularly – I have a friend who lost her hearing – first in one ear and then the other – and has never heard most of her grandchildren speak. I admit that I’m quite fond of quiet, but choosing quietness versus having noise taken away from me are different things. Much like the pandemic, I don’t go out to more places than I did during it (except for the occasional thrift store and lunch out with my bestie), but there is a big difference between choosing not to go out and being told I can’t go out.

I think of Christopher Reeves whenever I think about losing the sense of touch. Touch is the best way we can feel connected to one another – from the lightest touch of laying a sympathetic hand on someone to the deepest intimate touch that comes with love-making. Like music, touch can say the things we are unable to say with words. My brother gives a really great hug. It is all encompassing and once we’ve got our arms around each other, both of us just stand still and breathe. I can’t imagine how it would feel for my brother to give me a hug and not be able to feel it.

And, I think most of all, I would like to keep my sight. I am a bit clumsy at times – I can miss a stair step when it’s right there in my vision (and have). Much of my time is spent reading (audiobooks are not the same, I’ve tried them) and I would be lost without being able to escape into a good story!

I’ve obviously given this a lot of thought – maybe too much thought? – and probably because extended family-by-heart, double vaccinated, recently caught COVID and it was spread around the household. One person still can taste nothing but spiciness after 3 weeks, still cannot smell, and that brought on this whole barrage of thoughts about losing our senses.

If you choose, I’d love for you to share which sense you would most hate to lose and why….

5 thoughts on “The Five Senses

  1. When I think about the senses i’m reminded how much I neglect my sense of smell – which is strongly tied to memory as well. Only once do I remember having that happen; i’d briefly inhaled some kind of bathroom cleaner or fragrance in a warehouse I was working at and it lit up my senses like nothing else – I could not only smell it, but I could feel the past emotional state. Never did find its source.

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