Ode to the nose!
“Smell is the sense of memory and desire.” - Rousseau.
We only smell something if the substance is volatile and thus enters our nose. Here comes the fragrance particle at the 'smell nerve' high up in our nose. This smell nerve (called olfactory bulb) is directly connected with the brain. Our sense of smell is the only sense directly connected to our limbic system, the part of our brain, with which we feel, remember, desire and get motivated.
Without a doubt, the sense of taste is highly connected to smelling because you can hardly taste anything if your nose is blocked.
Our brain receives smell signals through a clever combination of receptors. For scientific details on how these receptors function, we can highly recommend the work of Nobel-prize (2004) winners dr Linda Buck en dr Richard Axel. Read more.
In fact, humans are able to distinguish, recognize and therefore remember 10,000 different odours from each other. So also human beings have an excellent sense of smell, the difficulty often lies in identifying what exactly we smell, and therefore to find the right words.
Finally, for chemists and beta-interested people among you, Luca Turin's theory gives a different perspective on how scents are detected by the nose and brain at a molecular level. As the most common and accepted theory is the one of structure & form relationship of molecules, Luca Turin proposes a totally different explanation: the basis of smell lies in moleculair vibrational energy. In the following TED Talk this biophysicist explains his groundbreaking theory in simple terms. (For further scientific details: download his publication here.)
We expect and believe the full explanation will comprise of both theories, the best of both combined: partially structure, partially vibrational energy. Scientific research further continues and our scent experts will keep on track of this fascinating exploration and discoveries.
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."
- Albert Einstein
"Despite the very significant recent advances in our understanding of it, olfaction still holds plenty of mystery and therefore provides a fertile ground for both artistic and scientific exploration."
- Charles Sell