14 Feb The True Nature of Reality: No Common Scents – 19

Most people tend to think the majority of their sensory input comes from sight, sound, and touch. Even scientists once believed that the human sense of smell was not as strong as it was during our early evolution, placing the modern human capacity to smell at about 10,000 different scents. But new research shows that the modern human being has the capactity to detect more odors than this. How many? Try one trillion.

The ability to smell plays several different roles in our lives. Long ago, it evolved to help our primitive ancestors detect rotten foods that would be toxic, smell infection in wounds, trigger memories, and even choose mates. Just like fingerprints, each person has their own unique scent which can play a major role in physical attraction, and thus reproduction. The sense of smell provided an early warning detection against fires and poisonous plants, and may even have played a role in the communication of danger. Studies show that a person who experiences the emotions of fear or disgust emits an odor that triggers those same emotions in someone who detects them, even subconsciously.

Even though our sense of smell is much better than we previously believed, our ability to use our nose is easily outperformed by other species on our planet. An albatross can scan a mile of ocean for food while flying, not by sight, but by smelling the location of the fish it eats. Moles, who live in dark tunnels may have poor eyesight, but they possess a stereoscopic sense of smell that allows them to create a three-dimensional “picture” of their world, in essence, “seeing with their noses”. A moth has smell receptors on its antennae that can smell a potential mate up to 7 miles away.

A bear’s brain may only be one-third the size of the human brain, but the portion dedicated to smell is five times larger, giving them a better sense of smell than a bloodhound. And speaking of dogs, an Auburn tracking dog is able to follow the scent of a particular person twenty-four hours after they have walked through an area, even across a campus that has had tens of thousands of other people walking through it. Dogs can also be trained to detect cancer more accurately than our best state of the art machinery. Last, but not least, a shark is able to smell a single drop of blood one mile away, and can even smell the amino acids inside its potential prey.

When we hear about the abilities of other living creatures, we tend to label them as amazing or remarkable, instead of admitting our own lack of ability. The truth is that they have different equipment that is designed to pick up information that is all around us. This is another example of how our brain manufactures a version of reality that is severely incomplete, no matter how real it feels.

Start to pay more attention to your sense of smell. It plays a major role in the ability to taste and most likely started as a simple organism’s “technology” of “tasting at a distance”, a mechanism for locating food. For modern humans, losing our sense of smell is associated with mental health, and some advocates are starting to promote smell tests as part of the diagnosis for certain predispositions for schizophrenia, depression, low weight anorexics, and migrain suffers. Our sense of smell may even be linked to Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease.


Do you consider yourself to have a good or poor sense of smell?

Name three smells you absolutely hate and describe them.

Name three smells you love and describe them.

Can you think of a time when something you smelled helped warn you of danger?

Have you ever been sick with a cold or flu and lost your sense of smell? How did it affect your life?

Write a funny example of how you would use your sense of smell if your nose was as good as a tracking dog (ex. to find your lost cellphone or track down your teenager).

Where are you right now? What do you smell right now?

Write down a list of smells that you can’t perceive but imagine to be all around you.

Write about how our senses, which we usually think of as straightforward information gatherers, can trigger subconscious activities such as memories, our attraction or repulsion to another person, or make us feel afraid or disgusted.

The next time you enter a new location, (home, office, room, etc.), make a note of how it smells. What information can you gather about the new environment from what you smell?

Name two smells that trigger specific memories in you (positive or negative).

Michael Ken