Issue 70 / July - August 2009
It's me, Peter, your Nose!
You recognize light with your eyes, while you perceive sound waves with your ears. Earlier, those organs told you how they represent God's beautiful creation. They show His splendid art and His Beautiful Names that are manifested on them. Now, I, your nose, will take my turn to show the different intricacies and wonders of God's art exhibited in my creation. I am a sensory organ, created to perceive smell through chemical reactions. I will open a window in front of you through which you will see the manifestations of God's knowledge and might from a different point of view.
I have been positioned in the center of your face so masterfully and delicately that even my slightest displacement would cause your face to become disfigured immediately. You would lose your good looks if I were wounded or spoiled. It seems to me that after creating your whole face and body, God placed me very accurately so that I can be in perfect harmony with them, and even with your soul. We noses appear in countless shapes-slender, long, narrow, wide, flat, Roman (convex), sharp and stubby noses. In the past, some wise men used to comment on people's personality by looking at the posture and shape of their faces and bodies. The different shapes of noses would give them ideas about the intelligence and the will power of each person. It is true that there is a relationship between my shape and your personality. However, it would be wrong for someone to claim to know all about you just by looking at my shape, since your other organs affect one another too; some can neutralize the effects of others. Moreover, discipline and education can change many of the characteristics of a person. So, do not judge people just by looking at their nose.
Anyway, since these are subjective matters, they are not our focus now. What I would like to tell you about is the objective truth about the delicate art and meaning in my creation. My Creator has designed me as a projecting organ on the head-and not only on your face, but also all vertebrate animals, especially mammals. I am the organ that is used most by animals to hunt for food, to feed, and to look for their young or their mate. I am placed at the front of your body, and like a detector I sensitively recognize smells. When animals find something new, they first poke me into it to understand what it is. That is why the idiom "to poke your nose into something" is used commonly among humans, meaning to interfere with something that does not concern one. Most animals use the sense of smell more than humans do. Since they do not possess the intelligence and consciousness of humans, they acquire some of the necessary knowledge to survive through their sense of smell. However, humans are given intelligence and consciousness, and so they are not supposed to "poke their nose" into everything. Of course, that does not mean that I am useless. On the contrary, I have many functions and a complex and meaningful structure.
In the middle of your face is my external component, which is shaped like a pyramid. Because it is made of cartilage, this part is quite flexible. My tip is beaked and there are plates on my two sides. The cartilage in my tip is connected to a bone in my upper part between your eye sockets. This bone, called the nasal bone, is a part of the main bone of the forehead. A cartilaginous bridge that is lined in the middle divides my nasal cavity into two nostrils which lead to the outside. The hard palate at my base also makes up the roof of your mouth. The soft palate that is behind this extends to the nasal portion of the throat (nasopharynx). During the act of swallowing, it rises and closes off the upper pharynx to prevent food and saliva from escaping from your throat and being forced up into my back. If, when eating, you feel tickling in your throat and cough, this palate cannot close off, and the food can lodge in me and come out of my nostrils. Another benefit of this system can be seen in patients and those who are about to have surgery, when their pharynx is closed off. In such situations, patients are provided with food, liquids and air via a tube which runs through me.
The journey of the air you breathe, which you have to do in order to survive, starts with me and continues as far as your lungs. The air that enters through my nostrils is not always clean and of good enough quality to enter your lungs. If low-quality air reaches your lungs, you will get cold, infected, and sick. To protect you from that, our All-knowing God created everything carefully, taking measures to ensure your well being. He has placed air-filtering hairs at the front part of my cavity, and He has covered the inner surface of my rear with a mucous membrane (mucosa) that has a fluid form. The structure of my cavity is quite complex. Along with my two lateral walls, there are three horizontal bone shelves called the concha (or the turbinate), comprising the inferior, the middle and the superior turbinates. These narrow, shell-like structures increase the surface area of my cavity and thus help to warm and humidify the air easily before it reaches the lungs. That is, the air you inhale does not pass to your lungs until it is conditioned and filtered by me. This process is initiated by the hair in my front part, which prevents the entry of dust particles. Then, the air passes through the curled aperture formed by the concha. The concha is covered by a sticky mucous membrane which produces a secretion. This slippery secretion, along with the cilia, traps smaller foreign particles such as the dust of coal, soot, bacteria or pollen. In addition to that, since the pressure inside me is lower than the pressure outside, I can easily warm and humidify the air that passes through me.
The sides and the surface of my superior concha are lined with a very special epithelium which has a role in the sense of smell. The smell receptors, which are the cilia cells, and other supporting cells constitute the olfactory epithelium for smell. Everything that releases molecules into the air has a smell of its own. Perception of a smell occurs in the brain as a result of a very complex chain of reactions. Indeed, I have no idea about how this process happens but people talk about several theories. Since the vibration and the structure of every molecule which reaches me through the air currents differ from every other, each molecule causes different chemical reactions and electrical impulses. The molecules that come through the air dissolve in the moisture which lies on my epithelium and they chemically stimulate the cells for smell. If my mucosa dries out and loses all its moisture in dry air, it becomes more difficult for the molecules to dissolve and for you to breathe. My sense of smell also weakens or gets lost in the event of a lack of the element of zinc, which normally exists in small amounts in your body.
There is a reason why the color, taste and smell of garlic are different than that of a rose or jasmine flower: it is because each creature is created out of different compounds, as if in a laboratory of its own. Therefore, the molecules that spread into the air from those different compounds and the impact they cause will naturally be different. Indeed, what is interesting here is the wonderful system which perceives each of the molecules of so many different compositions as a different smell, categorizes it, and stores its information in memory. Whenever I experience a new smell, by its composition and vibrations, I instantly figure out its difference from other smells. Then, I help to store it in the brain's memory related to the smell so that I can recognize that smell if I come across it again. All of those functions in their complexity remain an enigma which is still being studied by physiologists of smell. Another wonderful attribute of my smell-receptor cells is the fact that they sense the smell very strongly at first and after a while, they are not as strongly stimulated as before, resulting in a temporary paralysis of those cells. Thus, a situation called "habituation" occurs, and this is an indication of God's mercy. If God had not created this "fading" of constantly existing smells, the sewage, garbage, tannery or butchery workers would not be able to do their work.
The mucosa that lines my cavity can easily become swollen with blood and tissue liquids. During viral or bacterial infection, or an allergy like hay fever, my cavity might become blocked completely, which makes it hard for you to breathe. Infection of your upper respiratory tract causes me to run and get blocked. You know how stagnant water gets smelly and swampy, whereas running water does not hold dirt. Similarly, when I get blocked, bacteria reproduce very fast and get transmitted to other respiratory organs. That is why, when you catch cold, you must do your best to prevent my getting blocked. Hot, aromatic or spiced teas might help you, but the best thing is to pour a weak solution of saline (salt water) into your nostrils, which will clear the congestion. As for nasal drops, do not use them unless you have to, since they will cause addiction and other side effects.
Your skull also contains four major pairs of air-filled cavities (sinuses) at my sides behind your cheeks and above me behind the forehead. In the event of infection of your sinuses, inflammation of your tonsils, or the growth of polyps, my discharge becomes constant and turns into flu or chronic rhinitis. Besides that, if I bleed it may be an important first symptom of many illnesses. Many conditions, including high blood pressure and several illnesses with fever cause bleeding inside me. Indeed, bleeding from me in patients with high blood pressure can be seen as a warning and protection against serious conditions. If, because of high blood pressure, my blood vessel did not split, bleed and decrease the pressure, a vessel in your brain would split, which would result in a much worse scenario.
Peter, from now on, do not ever forget to give thanks to God when you smell a flower or anything else with a beautiful scent. Inhale the air deeply with the pleasant impression the scent leaves on your soul. Our Lord God Almighty, who has given you the air as a blessing, bestowed you with me as a filter to clean the harmful particles from that air. If He had not done so, your lungs would fill with soot and dust and they would fail eventually. You would not be able to sense the taste of food because the experience of flavor cannot be achieved by the taste buds alone. It is me that helps them to do that. For instance, a person whose olfactory epithelium has been ruined cannot tell whether it is an apple or a radish that he or she is eating. If you cannot sense the odor of the foods you eat, you will not be able to get their flavor, either.
Dear Peter, I think I have described myself to you sufficiently. I even support your spectacles for you! I have given you brief information without too much detail about my microscopic intricacies. While even one hair inside me cannot be placed by itself, do you think it is possible for me to have formed myself when I am equipped with thousands of intricate elements, each with a reason? Which sculptor, do you think, can make the nose of a sculpture, without a hammer and chisel in his hands and without a model and will in his mind? Other than the belief in God, there is no way of explaining my creation, which is a thousand times more splendid than the making of the nose of a sculpture. So, whenever you wash your face and look into the mirror, examine me carefully again and remember our God Almighty who created us out of nothing.
Irfan Yilmaz is a professor of biology at Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir, Turkey.