Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Can some sensory differences be learned?

       For the most part I don't think we can control much of our senses. Most people will never be able to smell what a Bloodhound can smell- thankfully. While much of this is inborn, to a point it seems that some of it can be affected by out culture and upbringing. Most Westerners, including me can not even think of eating insects, while they're a delicacy in many places. I'm pretty open minded to trying new things with the attitude that if it doesn't taste good I just won't eat it again. Insects are where I draw the line. In parts of Japan eating hornets is a delicacy while I don't even want to be near them. We can also acquire a taste for things we couldn't even smell as a kid. I love olive oil now but as a small child I did not. The opposite can happen, a food we loved if eaten before coming down with a sudden illness- especially a stomach virus, can become repulsive. This is actually a primitive instinct. Salt and pepper shakers are everywhere to account for differences in people's taste, and some of this can be adjusted. With practice we can learn to use less salt or sugar for better health. Also in branches of the military and some sports there are exercises to stretch the limits of our pain thresholds. Some drugs can obviously alter our senses either as a desired effect or a side effect.
       When people are starving and in desperate situations, they tend to be able to eat things no one would even dream people could eat. Also in emergencies people may be surprised at what they can endure with the help of adrenaline. I sometimes wonder if professional beekeepers might have a higher pain threshold than average to endure the frequent bee stings.
       Finding a balance is the key- that is a balance in between accommodating and adapting to the sensory differences we cannot change and seeing what we can do to adjust them or at least tolerate them. In other words we may try a little Vicks around our nose if we have to deal with a smell- as some health care workers do, on the other hand I certainly don't advocate throwing a temperature sensitive child in to a cold swimming pool to "make a man out of them".
       Hot peppers are an example of something people can develop a tolerance to and this can be used for practical reasons. Think of all the capsacian creams used for pain. Some people claim health benefits to eating them (besides impressing our buddies). One food I have tried to appreciate is bitter melon. This is a gourd which is a delicacy in India. It has a lot of potential health benefits but many people cannot pallate them. I got some frozen at an Indian grocery store. I can't say I liked it but I'm sure I can develop a taste for it if I really had to. Luckily it is widely available now in health food stores in pill form. To me the taste resembles something between a bell pepper, wood, and dandelion leaves- but even more bitter. Some compare it to chewing an Aspirin but I don't even think it is that bad. I think if people could learn to train their taste buds to appreciate healthy foods they could save their lives. Luckily I have never had much of a problem acquiring a taste for vegetables or other health foods.

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