When I was a child, Christmas was the smell of oranges and cigars and the Christmas tree, resinous and strange. Put any two of them together and it still bounces me right back into the past, bringing with it firelight, the bustle of friendly company, a sense of holding my breath in excitement. Smell is the first route by which I recall emotion.
Why smell evokes memory : the science bit
There is a reason for this, I find. Olfactory neurones in the upper part of the nose generate an impulse which signals the limbic system, that part of the brain which controls not only memory but also emotion, mood and behaviour. Supposedly, this is one of the most primitive parts of the brain.
Smell — the fallen angel of senses?
Apparently, Helen Keller called smell “the fallen angel of the human senses” because we don’t use it any more to tell us there’s a tiger in the area. And I agree that we live in an intensely visual age, with more communication illustrated than ever before.
But we do still smell food that has gone off.
And, even more important to the romantic novelist, smell is an important part of sexual attraction. Continue reading