Wednesday, August 24, 2016

People Smell

I am not a mouthbreather

Smell is a symbol for confusion and fantasy, from the time when the world was different. Yet it remains among us in a way that has not changed much in hundreds of years, at least not for the general population.

The general population doesn’t interact with smell in the same way as the previous entities. In brief, if the most concise form of knowledge aggregation (science) struggles with smells as distinctive from organic chemistry, one can be certain that the average person will be no less fortunate. Smell, in the everyday sense, does not lend itself to contemplations, and tends to avoid language altogether. People do not talk about smells themselves – they may talk about what they mean, or where they came from, but they do not talk about the smell itself.

People do not converse about the constituents of an odor – in the vast majority of cases, a smell would be referred to as a source, not as a molecular profile of potentially interchangeable parts. Beyond that, people do not notice most smells in the first place. Olfaction operates automatically, actively de-noising and investigating every one of the myriad odorants surrounding our fluid vaporsphere, and yet, we rarely notice.

Furthermore, the process of olfaction as a perception is so riddled with byzantine circuits that it leaves itself highly susceptible to cognitive override and subjective distortion. By the time a smell makes it to a person’s conscious awareness, it is far-removed from its universal essence (although some might suggest that such a thing doesn’t exist in the first place).

Smell is, after all, the animal inside us, and so being, spends very little time in the realm of collective discourse (and in spite of enervating our emotional lives to the maximum). It is somewhat of an overstatement, but not by much, if at all, to say that the general population barely knows what smell is, or how it works, and any discussion on the topic proper shifts immediately to its effects on memory and emotions, leaving the objective analysis of odorants a fallow field.

[x] In fact, Don Wilson and Richard Stevenson in their book, Learning to Smell (2006), make the case for human olfaction as a purely learned phenomenon, thus maintaining that universality in smells cannot exist.

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