Topical Guide 426
Sensory Perception: Smell
Reality: Perception of
Reservations Recommended, Chapter 1:
“There’s a smell, an odor coming from somewhere,” he explains. “In fact, I can smell it in here and in the den, too. It’s not quite the same in the den, not quite the same smell. They’ve been looking for it for a couple of days. . . .”
“They don’t know what it is?”
“Not yet. I’m supposed to smell it under various conditions to see — well, to see what I see. Or what I smell.”
It is hard to believe that we live in a world that is colorless and silent and possesses only electromagnetic radiation and air pressure waves. It is absolutely impossible, however, to disavow our conscious experiences of colors and sounds. So, we are forced to conclude that although the experience of redness may be evoked by a particular frequency of electromagnetic radiation striking the retina, the redness per se is not in the external world. It is exclusively a property that arises from the arrangement and interactions among nerve cells . . . .
If rotten eggs smell bad, tissue damage causes pain, or sugar tastes sweet, it is not because hydrogen sulfide gas has a foul smell, or because pain is waiting to escape from the point of a needle as it enters the skin, or because sweetness is a property of sugar molecules. Rather, it is because the human brain has evolved a neural organization that can generate pleasant or unpleasant sensations for those aspects of the world that are a benefit or detriment to gene survival. . . .
Phantosmia (phantom smell), also called an olfactory hallucination or a phantom odor, is smelling an odor that is not actually there. It can occur in one nostril or both. Unpleasant phantosmia, cacosmia, is more common and is often described as smelling something that is burned, foul, spoiled, or rotten. Experiencing occasional phantom smells is normal and usually goes away on its own in time. When hallucinations of this type do not seem to go away or when they keep coming back, it can be very upsetting and can disrupt an individual’s quality of life.
Olfactory hallucinations can be caused by common medical conditions such as nasal infections, nasal polyps, or dental problems. It can result from neurological conditions such as migraines, head injuries, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, seizures, or brain tumors. It can also be a symptom of certain mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, intoxication or withdrawal from drugs and alcohol, or psychotic disorders.
Little Follies, “The Girl with the White Fur Muff”:
I began bringing a chrysanthemum or two each day to add to the bunch of flowers in Mrs. Graham’s vase. This turned out to be a continually changing bunch. Each day she added some fresh flowers and threw away a few of the oldest.
“Do you know why I keep these here on my desk?” she asked me on the day that I first brought her the chrysanthemums.
“Because they look pretty?” I suggested.
“Because they smell pretty,” she said. She leaned toward me and spoke in her conspiratorial mumble. “This classroom stinks,” she said.
Reservations Recommended, Chapter 1:
Belinda gets up and slips her shoes off and puts them under one of the chrome tables, takes her blouse off, folds it, and hangs it over the back of a chrome chair. Matthew hangs his jacket on the back of another chrome chair, removes his tie and drapes it over the jacket, removes his shirt, folds it, and sets it on the seat of the chair. Belinda removes her bra and hangs it over the arm of her chair, takes her skirt off, folds it, and drapes it over the seat of the chair, pulls her panty hose off and tosses them under the chrome table, onto her shoes.
See also: Smell; Odor; Aroma; Scent TG 135
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