Smell is also unique in being closely connected to the memory centers of our brain. Seeing a face or hearing a particular song that reminds you of a past event can summon a level of nostalgia, but nothing to match the visceral pull you experience after catching a waft of a familiar perfume. The smell of a baking apple pie could bring back strong memories of the holidays at home, or conversely the scent of shellfish could conjure up a wave of nausea when you remember that time you got food poisoning.
Many mammals’ olfactory talents have been recognized by humans, and we’ve trained them to help us detect trace indicators. Bomb and drug sniffing dogs are probably the most familiar to you, but there are also rats that have been trained to smell tuberculosis. And let's not forget about truffle-hunting pigs snooping for delectable fungi.
If any smell scientists out there need inspiration for their next project, I have an idea for you:
You’ve probably gathered from my posts thusfar that I’m a bit of a cinema junkie. I didn't get caught up in the 3D, high-definition craze that’s been going for the last few years because in many cases visual quality is being valued over the actual quality of the writing and acting, but I appreciate the technological push to bring us more realism in our viewing experiences. And I want us to take it a step further with smell-o-vision! I don’t know how, and I don’t know if much of the average movie-going audience would even want such a thing, but I think it would be awesome. You would feel so immersed in the scene. Directors would have another tool for creating their milieu.
Ruan, Y., Zheng, X.-Y., Zhang, H.-L., Zhu, W. and Zhu, J. (2012), Olfactory dysfunctions in neurodegenerative disorders. J. Neurosci. Res., 90: 1693–1700. doi: 10.1002/jnr.23054