Friday, October 2, 2009

Sniff 'n' Poof !

I love Lyall Watson's Jacobson's Organ!

Don't worry, you have one, and you and you and I ... we play them marvelously ... lovely smell music.

Published in 2000,
Jacobson's Organ: and the Remarkable Nature of Smell from another interdisciplinarian, is a delight to read.


We think because we smelled ~ Lyall Watson

Smell is governed more by instinct than intellect, moving through our lower brain while other senses take a different freeway, transmitting via one's upper brain.

Dr. Watson passed in June of 2008 at the age of 69. He answered many of the questions I have begun to raise on this site.

First Smell

In his commentary on Patrick Suskind's book Perfume I found kindred perspectives. On people's surprise that the main character, orphan turned murderer, Grenouille, has powers of extreme smell receptivity, Watson says, "He produces all the evidence of what we call 'second sight' by the exercise of what we might instead call 'first smell'.


And, in my opinion, importantly Watson writes

"I believe that where Perfume ultimately fails is in its emphasis on the dangerous savagery inherent in the sense of smell Suskind lingers on the details of fragrant, hapless maidens stalked by an obsessive maniac who sniffs out his prey, instead of exploring everyone else’s untouched potential. This is a little disheartening. It really is time we stopped denigrating the power and influence of smell in all our lives. And yet, smell has been culturally suppressed for so long that one has to wonder. Perhaps heightened olfactory consciousness really would be dangerous to the established social order. Think what we could do with it!"

To that I respond, more heartening, lifely ... fun and funny things.

Lyall Watson addresses smell's effect on our hormones, which dovetails with earlier posts here addressing some precarious side effects of birth controls, especially in relation to smelling and truth in mating.

"We know that the odour of a strange male’s urine lowers the level of pituitary hormones in pregnant female mice and results in miscarriages. It has been shown that strange male urine can even shift the hormonal balance so far that female hamsters never become pregnant at all. And the same results in rodents have been produced by androgen-rich human urine. But no one seems to be looking at the possible role of smell on the fertility of women who work, perhaps as cleaners, n surroundings where they may be exposed to the urinary odours of unfamiliar men.

We should worry about such things. They represent real risks to any woman who is both pregnant and has an intact Jacobson’s Organ. An informal survey among my own friends suggests that young wives do often have difficulty conceiving for the first time when living in the home of their husband’s family, surrounded by the odours of brothers and fathers-in-law. They often fall pregnant within months of finding a home of their own."


I remain vividly aware of scent and color.

Watson, ".... I believe that there may be still other ways of olfactory knowing. These involve synesthesia, not taking away a sense and allowing others to compensate for the loss, but adding one sense to another in ways that reinforce them both."


A bit of the organ's historical context and lore:

"This elusive feature is the Organ of Jacobson, named after the sharp-eyed Danish anatomist who discovered it nearly two centuries ago. It is easy to miss. The external evidence consists simply of a pair of tiny pits, one on either side of the nasal septum, a centimeter or two above every human nostril. But the fact that it does exist changes everything.

Far Smell

1780, an obscure civil servant on Ile de France (now Mauritius) wrote to his Minister of Marine and announced that he had discovered a way of detecting ships while they were still below the horizon. He called it nauscopie, and describe it as ‘anticipating by means of smell’, the olfactory equivalent of ‘far sight’, a sort of ‘far smell’. Unfortunately we know no more details about his technique, but history records that it enabled him to win a great deal of money in wagers."

There is so much more in the rich books he has left us; mine them. 

For now, I leave you with this:


"I don’t believe we have even begun to come to terms with our sense of wonder. We still have a lot to learn, particularly from those parts of the sense housed in the rhinencephalon  the old ‘smell brain’.

Mysteries abound there, and reveal themselves only when we have the courage and the imagination to ask the proper questions.

Jean Jacques Rousseau says,
The sense of smell is the sense of imagination.
It greatly disturbs the brain.

Indeed, and it still does."

Images: Circle Fumes/Woman/Wind/Under Beauty/DNA Egg Lura Astor Art