Smell
2003-09-21

I do not like synthetic smells.

Well, that’s not an absolute, I wear cologne sometimes, and don’t mind the right fragrance on the right woman – I tend to be a fan of Angel, both for women and men. And of course, I wear deodorant…

More often, though, it seems to me that scent is the most primal and important form of human communication. Deep in our past, I’ve read, the brain first evolved as an organ for processing smells.

Even today, it seems to still be the least understood sense. There is no RGB or CIE for smells, no simple breakdown of what makes what smell like what. No standards, no deep and rigorous understanding of how it works. Aside from a few experimental electronic noses for limited industrial applications, no computers are capable of sensing smell, whereas there is at least useful progress in machine vision and sound.

But we humans, in attempting to delude ourselves that we have risen above our bodies and their beastly past, have decreed that the sense of smell is insignificant to our interactions. Never mind that almost every other animal on the planet fights and fucks by following their nose, all of a sudden, we seem to think, millions of years of smellovelution was thrown away, replaced with the languages of sound, eye contact, body movement and facial expression.

I think our smells can tell more than we know, but those stories and messages run so deep they are more akin to emotion than communication. We aren’t taught, and perhaps can’t be taught, to recognize and consciously act on olfactory communication. I suspect the messages range amongst base, simple notes of desire, “I love you,” “I’m angry,” “I’m your mom.”

We can learn more about it. In Surely Youre Joking, Mr. Feynman!, the Nobel prize winning physicist relates (quote from a Salon article about this topic, because I don’t feel like typing the passage from the book:)

While [Feymann] was out of the room, someone would pick up and handle just one bottle or can in a six-pack… Feynman would come back, smell everybody’s hands, smell the books and pick out the books that had been handled, and then the people who had handled them. “It was easy,” Feynman related. “It’s hard to explain, because we’re not used to saying things about it. You put each book up to your nose and sniff a few times, and you can tell.”

Most of us obsess on how to mask those codes, using deodorants, perfumes, scented shampoos and conditioners, shaving gels and feminine sprays, perfumed detergent and toilet paper, room deodorizers and air fresheners.

Some natural smells aren’t particularly enjoyable, of course, but I’m frankly sick of trying to hide it. I would much rather smell a ripe freshly ripped fart than a room full of some nasal anaesthetic “air freshener”.

Let’s not take it anymore. Let’s stop covering up, let’s start sniffing each others pits and butts when we say hello. Let’s love and hate people for their smells, instead of which mall they shop at or how they type. Let’s not bother with anything more than soap and water.

Let’s not be silent.

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Ello