the history of scent & memory
Although the sense of smell may be the most underrated of the five senses, it may be the most difficult to escape. In her book, A
Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman states, "Cover your eyes and you will stop seeing, cover your ears and you will
stop hearing, but if your cover your nose and try to stop smelling, you will die." This may be a dramatic statement, but it is
partially true...as long as you do not have an olfactory disorder.
The importance of smell has been well documented throughout time. Perfumes were hailed for their healing and aphrodisiac
qualities in ancient times. During the reign of Queen Hatshepsut from 1558 - 1085 B.C., scent, perfume, and personal hygiene were
national obsessions. Perfumes and incense were used in religious ceremonies, as offerings to the gods, for health, and vanity.
In 1814, when Josephine died, Napoleon planted violets, her signature scent, at her grave. He also wore these flowers
in a locket around his neck until his last days. Charles Dickens could not bear the scent of a particular paste that was used for
labeling bottles; it reminded him of painful childhood memories when his father was forced to work in a bottling warehouse
after going bankrupt. Until recently, the link between scent, memory and emotion was mysterious.
It is estimated that humans are able to recognize about ten thousand smells. While most people can agree on the
identification of a particular smell, each person will have their own reaction to the smell based on their personal
experiences. The workings of the human olfactory system, which will be explained in detail later, did not seem to warrant the
ability for certain smells to evoke emotions and memories from years ago. Researchers and scientists are beginning to unlock the
connections between the olfactory system and the brain and are capable to explain why the memories and emotions we
experience from scents seem so much more intense and clear than other memories. According the Dr. Rachel Herz, "none of the
other senses is as directly or intensely linked to the brain's emotion and memory centers as smell."