“I look upon the pleasure which we take in a garden as one of the most innocent delights in human life.” Cicero
There is a 20-acre garden located in New Delhi titled The Garden of the Five Senses with a purpose to: ‘Stimulate all the five senses in an evocative bouquet that awakens the mind to the beauty of life and invoke a grateful prayer for the gift of touch, sight, sound, smell and taste.’ Visitors are encouraged to ‘touch the rocks and displays, smell the fragrance of the flowers to stimulate the olfactory senses, visually take in the appealing landscaping, hear the ceramic bells and the soothing sound of the water falls to please the ear and enjoy the variety of cuisines at the food courts to please the tongue.’ So how do these seemingly simple – yet super-sophisticated – senses of ours actually work in our bodies so that we can enjoy and experience all of that?
Touching the rocks: Your sense of touch comes by way of your skin – which has about 5 million nerve receptors – and when those sensors are stimulated, they send electrical pulses to your neurons. These special cells then relay electrochemical impulses along until it reaches your spinal cord, which then take the incoming signals and sends it to your brain for translation.
Smelling the flowers: Our sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any other of our senses, and the receptors in our nose is the only place where our central nervous system is directly exposed to the environment. Vaporized odor molecules (or chemicals) floating in the air, reach the nose and dissolve in the mucus, which is on the roof of each nostril. Underneath the mucus are specialized olfactory receptor neurons that are capable of differentiating thousands of odors and scents, which then transmit the information to the olfactory bulbs, located at the back of the nose. These sensory receptors send messages directly to the most primitive and higher brain centers, which can then influence emotions such as triggering memories, and modify conscious thought. Our noses are responsible for 80 – 90% of our perception of flavour.
Seeing the landscape: Our eyes collect visual information by images that are carried by light passing through the cornea, which bends – or refracts – this light. The iris regulates the pupil, which controls the amount of light that enters the eye. and behind that is a lens that further focuses light, or an image, onto the retina. The retina is a delicate, photosensitive tissue that contains the special photoreceptor cells that convert light into electrical signals, which are processed further and sent to the brain through the optic nerve for interpretation and to scan its memory banks. 50% of our brain pathways are dedicated to vision and our eyes can distinguish up to 10 million different colours!
Hearing the bells: Sound waves travel into the ear canal until they reach the eardrums, then passes the vibrations through the middle ear bones or ossicles into the inner ear (or cochlea), which is shaped like a snail and has thousands of tiny hair cells. Hair cells change the vibrations into electrical signals that are sent to the brain through the hearing nerve to interpret what that sound is.
Enjoy their cuisine: Taste is basically a bundle of different sensations that land on our taste buds and tongue, which then boil it down to sweet, sour, salty and bitter, as well as qualities such as smell, texture and temperature. The ‘colouring’ of a taste happens through the nose, and only after taste is combined with smell is a food’s flavour produced. Like smell, taste is closely linked to our emotions because both senses are connected to the involuntary nervous system.
A couple of years ago, my ‘getting up there’ mom and I were out walking and we stuck our noses into what I experienced as an incredibly scented rosebush, but she could barely smell them. Her advancing age had clearly robbed a lot of this precious sense from her, which really shocked and saddened me. So the moral of that short story and the message in this column is to take big, long whiffs of wonderfully scented flowers whenever you see them and enjoy and truly appreciate all our other senses that we likely take for granted. In another words – use ‘em before you lose ‘em!
Gaiagardening column – June 2016