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  1. #1

    Default Improved senses from the loss of a scent...

    damn. freudian slip. should say "from the loss of a sense". wish i could change that.

    This isnt actually fragrance related, but its too serious for the OT forum. Redneck said something very benign in his reply to my stereo olfaction thread and it triggered a memory of another untested theory I had.

    It is said when you lose a sense, the others improve. So if you become blind, your hearing is more keen. However, I recently began thinking about this, and came up with an alternate explanation of what is happening.

    The statement that your other senses improve gives the impression that the volume on the remaining senses is turned up. But thats not what is happening at all, IMO. Yes, there is an improvement in the other senses from what I gather. I have never lost a sense so I cannot verify it, but its not something I dispute. But here is what I think is happening:

    Lets say I lose my sense of vision in a car accident. I use that example as a sudden moment of loss rather than a slow degeneration. Over time, my brain will realize that I am not using my eyes anymore and that they are not functional, and will turn off the wiring AND the part of my brain that is used for vision. The example I gave to my dad was I said that it is like having 5 stereos blasting and all playing different songs. Then asking someone to listen to all of them. Then turn off one of the stereos. Suddenly it is easier to hear what is playing on the remaining 4, but they didnt change their volume or anything. By the elimination of one, it is easier to understand whats playing on the 4 other stereos. My dad called it 'Less CPU drag' which is a good explanation.

    So the loss of a sense does not IMPROVE the other senses, its just that the others become more keen as the brain can focus more on the remaining ones.

    I know im splitting hairs/heirs/airs (whichever is the correct one) here because both explanations have the same result: improved senses, but what im saying is that everyone else seems to say: THE OTHER SENSES GET LOUDER and im saying THE OTHER SENSES STAY AT THE SAME VOLUME, BUT BY ELIMINATING ONE, THEY ARE EASIER TO HEAR

    i hope that made sense. another way you can look at it is this: if i asked you to read a convoluted passage from something while loud obnoxious music was playing, and a kid was tapping on your shoulder being annoying. then asked you to tell me what the passage said, you would have more difficulty doing that than if only ONE of those stimuli were happening; either the kid wasnt there or the music wasnt there. The passage didnt become any clearer, its just you had less other things distracting you and so it was easier to read
    Last edited by helo darqness; 30th March 2009 at 09:41 AM.
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Improved senses from the loss of a scent...

    I don't have time for a real thorough reply, but actually your other senses can improve in an objective sense, because in time the brain rewires itself and uses the areas that belonged to the no longer functional sense for new purposes. The brain has high plasticity, especially in youth where one can lose large portions of their brain to a stroke or such and still end up entirely normal (the rest of the brain wires itself to handle the tasks previously handled by the now dead portions), but we are learning that even as we age the brain remains fairly plastic.

    I can't wait to hear RN Perfumisto's thoughts on the matter.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: Improved senses from the loss of a scent...

    Quote Originally Posted by helo darqness View Post
    It is said when you lose a sense, the others improve. So if you become blind, your hearing is more keen. However, I recently began thinking about this, and came up with an alternate explanation of what is happening.

    The statement that your other senses improve gives the impression that the volume on the remaining senses is turned up. But thats not what is happening at all, IMO. Yes, there is an improvement in the other senses from what I gather. I have never lost a sense so I cannot verify it, but its not something I dispute. But here is what I think is happening:
    .....
    I know im splitting hairs/heirs/airs (whichever is the correct one) here because both explanations have the same result: improved senses, but what im saying is that everyone else seems to say: THE OTHER SENSES GET LOUDER and im saying THE OTHER SENSES STAY AT THE SAME VOLUME, BUT BY ELIMINATING ONE, THEY ARE EASIER TO HEAR
    This is an interesting topic. I think there's some of both going on, actually. The way you're describing it has more to do with divided attention, I think. Attention is certainly a limited capacity system. If you're able to filter out task-irrelevant sensory details, you would be able to better attend to whatever it is you're trying to do. This could be through either conscious attentional mechanisms or through losing a sensory ability in an accident like you mention. If you're trying to concentrate on a smell, for instance, you might be improving the signal to noise ratio by filtering out visual stimuli. I actually find myself closing my eyes when I'm trying to focus on a scent.

    However, the brain is remarkably plastic, and I think there are important changes that happen after a traumatic loss of a sensory modality that could lead to improved perception in another modality. Particularly with injuries early in life, there's evidence that areas of the brain that map certain modalities are altered to compensate for the lack of sensory input. Thankfully for us, I think, the brain doesn't just shut off certain areas that aren't receiving sensory input as usual. Blindness early in life can lead to an expansion of the areas of the brain that respond to auditory stimulation. Areas that would normally respond more to visual stimulation begin to respond to auditory stimulation. Some people have tried to interpret this as evidence that some blind people might be more predisposed to appreciating music because more areas are responsive to auditory stimuli. I don't know about that, though. Even within a single sensory modality you can have improvement in sensitivity in one area after damage to another. For example, if the information about touch (somatosensation) from your index finger no longer reaches the part of the brain that represents that finger, the brain areas representing the adjacent fingers will expand and take over the area and will presumably become more sensitive as a result. How all of this happens is a fascinating neurobiological issue that I'm sure will take a long time to work out.

    Anyway, I think it's both.
    What you described is probably more of an immediate effect of filtering out unnecessary distractions. However, there are some more long-term changes that take place in the brain, too, that could "turn up the volume" of the other sensory modality.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Improved senses from the loss of a scent...

    Quote Originally Posted by jwpianoboe View Post
    I actually find myself closing my eyes when I'm trying to focus on a scent.
    Haha, it's funny you say that. When I'm testing a scent, especially one of my own creation, I turn off the TV, the stereo, and go and lay in my bed with the lights out and the blackout curtains closed.
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  5. #5

    Default Re: Improved senses from the loss of a scent...

    Analogy: When I'm dancing in a dance class, and I know I have enough room, sometimes I close my eyes while dancing . Not to be rude to my partner, but a lot of things make more sense (I can sense better where my center-of-gravity at every step, the momentum of both of us, and feel the music!)

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Improved senses from the loss of a scent...

    See The Brain That Changes Itself for accessible information on how the other senses actually recruit areas of the brain that are no longer being used to proces a lost sense. The general topic is brain plasticity. The book also has good information on how artificial sensors and other senses can be used to 'recreate' a lost sense.

    http://www.amazon.com/Brain-That-Cha...9801995&sr=8-1

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