The Threats to Our 5 Senses and the Sensory Sanctuary of Our Clinical Offices


Our 5 senses… are they under attack?




The 5 senses send information to our brains to help us understand and perceive the world. I sense they are threatened. If they are, we are.


This past weekend, my wife and I went from hearing the sublime to wanting to cover our ears. We were at the 2023 Ojai Music Festival, led by the creativity and beautiful singing of Rhiannon Giddens. Even if some of the percussive sounds seemed irritating to some, on the whole, the music was moving.

However, on the airplane home, we sat right above a wing, and the jet engines kept me from clearly hearing my wife talk right next to me, even with my hearing aids on.

On June 9th, the New York Times covered noise pollution and danger in 3 articles, with one asking for readers’ answers to “Does Noise Affect Your Life? We Want to Know.”1 Already, research knows that undue noise is dangerous to health and mental health, including eliciting an overactive stress response when the noise is perceived as dangerous. My wife and I used to joke that she should be a “noise czar,” as years ago she recognized the danger.


Just recently, we also perceived a threat through our vision. Air pollution from fires in northeast Canada came down to the eastern half of the United States. For a day or 2 last week, the sun changed to orange and the atmosphere looked like the nuclear apocalypse that we see in movies. A baseball game was cancelled in New York City.

In my Milwaukee, that air reached us at the same time as the lingering plant allergy season. The result for me was an unusual sense of not being able to breathe well enough, accompanied by cold-like symptoms.

Today, that polluted air is supposed to reach the upper Midwest and Milwaukee once again. I thought of the saying “we cannot breathe,” not from the police, but from our collective contribution to climate change. Round 2 of that fire smoke is due today, so it looks like I will be staying indoors.


Speaking of climate change concerns, one of them is the production of meat, with plant-based meat alternatives made to taste like meat, as in “Impossible Burgers.” Nothing is wrong with the substitution, other than when it fools someone as to what is “real.”

Right now, there seems to be some competition between diets veering to the vegetarian versus increased meat diets like Keto and the Carnivore diet. What will turn out best for both humans and the environment?


That polluted air from the fires also smelled different, as various kinds of pollution does. Long term, certain particles cause damage to the lungs and brains.

In addition, going through the COVID pandemic infection often produced a lack of smell and thereby taste, which produced some sense of how important smell is to enjoyment of food and even the perception of danger.


Touch was also a victim of COVID-19, as we recalled what not touching casually meant: the reassuring touching when meeting others, including handshakes and hugs, disappeared for many for months and months. Only recently has that returned, hopefully with appreciation.

The 5 Senses in our Clinical Offices

Of course, during the pandemic, most patients were not seen in our live clinical offices. Zoom became what was perceived as a good option, despite its alteration as to what was seen, heard, and felt.

One way to think about the unique benefits of our live offices is that they are sensory sanctuaries. They can feel like a home away from home. Due to confidentiality, they often come close to being sound-proofed, which also allows for clear hearing. Eye to eye content is easy and encouraged, while also allowing for looking away for cultural and psychoanalytic preferences. Real touching becomes an appropriate option. Though taste is unusual unless there is some sharing of nonalcoholic drink and snacks, the available smells are intensified.

We are worried, as we should be, as to what we may be losing as human and replaced by artificial intelligence. Our 5 senses are part of what makes us human, including what gives us information, enjoyment, and risk-perception. We lose them at our own peril. Having the ecological in our model, as in bio-psycho-social-eco, is one way to keep our senses in our conscious concerns.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Baumgaertner E. Does noise affect your life? We want to know. The New York Times. June 9, 2023. Accessed June 15, 2023.

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