A Fragrant Universe

May 10, 2015 at 8:01 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

imagesTitle: Pheromones and Animal Behavior

Author: Tristram D. Wyatt

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Genre: Science / Animal Communication

Length: 391 pages

“[…] one doesn’t realise how much ‘savor’ is smell. You smell people, you smell books, you smell the city, you smell the spring – maybe not consciously, but as rich unconscious background to everything else. My whole world was suddenly radically poorer.” – O. Sacks, The man who mistook his wife for a hat

So completely fascinated with the human scent and sense of smell this month, I picked up a textbook on pheromones at the public library.

What I’ve learned is that I can read up on everything there is to know scientifically about ones sense of smell and how they use it, but I still won’t completely understand all the nuances of how that affects interpersonal communications. Correction – I understand how, but not why it affects us so completely.

Having this knowledge of the how should enable me to shut it off when it does not suit my emotional well being, right? After all, knowledge is power.

No. We, as humans, are too complex for that. (Or simple, depending on how you look at it.) Our emotions can even heighten our perception of these smells, tie that to menstrual cycles and memory and we’re pretty much screwed to always have knee jerk reactions to certain scents whether we like it or not.

Even Wyatt states in the closing chapter of his textbook:

“One of the major challenges to human pheromone research is that of designing rigorous experiments that eliminate other cues and variables. As well as the complexity of odour that being a mammal brings, humans are also complex emotionally. This makes us doubly difficult as experimental subjects.”

I absolutely adore the smell of a well cared for old book. But the effect that beautiful freshly cut grass mixed with vanilla, a tinge of dust, and leather has on me can be overwhelming or something I barely note in passing, depending on the mood I’m already in.

All this sensory awareness just reminds me of a John Oehler book I read awhile back, Aphrodesia – and led me to finally committing to pick up the book Perfume by Suskind (which I haven’t done just yet, but will soon). People have been talking about it for years, I’ve been shelving copies of it at the bookstore in droves for as long as I’ve worked there. It’s even on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, but I don’t read the books on that list merely because they are on it – I try to let those titles come to me organically via other means of gathering more books for my TBR pile. All of these things in Suskind’s favorite, but his work never really moved me until now.

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