February 2021

‘The Forgotten Sense’: The Sunday Read – The Daily

One of the more unusual symptoms of Covid-19 is the loss of the sense of smell. While this often occurs temporarily during and after many viruses: stuffy, inflamed noses can block the passage to the smell receptors at the top of the airway and sometimes these receptors are also damaged by inflammation, taking time to recover. The Covid-19 loss of smell, however, occurs without any of that typical nasal blockage. And this has opened new doors to understanding our most neglected sense.

I am often outraged by the way humans view vision as the primary sense. Sight is the main way we perceive the world, the plethora of visual metaphors and idiom that pervade out language attest to this point. Note the first sentence of this paragraph.

As an audio producer, I feel annoyed in the many situations in which our hearing is at best ignored, at worst abused. I want to scream when I walk into a new restaurant in which obscene sums have obviously been spent on a new fit out but NO money or attention has been paid on treating the space for sound. Turns out people working with our sense of smell share similar frustrations. “While we have long understood the basic mechanisms of vision and audition, it has been less than 30 years since the neural receptors that allow us to perceive and make sense of the smells around us were even identified. The discoverers — Linda Buck and Richard Axel — were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2004.”