Daily Archives: August 11, 2012


We generally believe that we have five senses. I say that because we used to believe there were four flavors – salty, sweet, bitter& sour until they added umami as the fifth in about 1908 thanks to Kikunae Ikeda. Of course we westerners didn’ find out about it until about a century later, but that’s to be expected. In any case, we’ll leave the future open to the possibility of more senses.

We rely on sight every day, backed up by hearing and touch. Taste, as mentioned above is also part of our daily life, but more recreational than practical. Smelling is good although we tend to think of that as better developed in other species – the dog being the most obvious, and like taste isn’t seen as practical – with a few exceptions, such as the smell of smoke. Touch we use, but kind of ignore during the workday, at least.

Sorry about the clumsy setup, but I’m actually headed somewhere with this.

We use sight in order to navigate our existence. Sound, along with sight, is how we tend to acquire data. These two seem to be the workhorses in everyday society. Touch is funny because we tend to use it for more subliminal interfaces, yet when we think of sensual (as in related to the senses) it’s touch that comes to mind. Taste and smell seem to go together – when we have a cold, we don’t notice taste because much of taste is connected to smell.

So (stay with me), sight and sound play the biggest role in everyday life.

Yet, it’s smell – usually seen as an also-ran – that trigger memories and feelings. It takes us immediately from this moment to somewhere in the past. It takes us to years ago; a perfume or aftershave that someone special once wore; the smell of baking bread or cookies. These smells can trigger an avalanche of memories and emotions. In our mind’s eye we leave where we are and are suddenly transported to a different time and place.

Songs can do that too, but with music we go through an intellectual process. Something like, “I remember that song. It was popular when I was a junior in high school and I was dating so-and-so but this was playing at the dance when I saw this other person and wanted to dance with them…” Smells on the other hand go from – sniff – chocolate chip cookies – 8 years old at home. Right from the sense to the emotion. Powerful.

There are many things in life that surprise us by their power, such as smell under just the right conditions.

It keeps life interesting.