Monday, April 18, 2011

smell, symbol, and source

I had never really thought of myself as particularly adept at at the sense of smell, but I considered myself fairly aware. With my sense of vision, and even sound, I am often aware of the ways in which language and symbol drastically influence my perception and awareness. Yet with smell, I believed that when aware, I was having some sort of direct non-linguistic experience. Yet after the smell bottle exercise, I realized how drastically my perception hinges on language and object. These disembodied smells, being removed from word, symbol, and source, became vast and alien. While being entirely nostalgic and familiar, I could not linguistically distinguish the vast majority. These smells had haunting intricacies that I felt both acutely aware of but could not for the life of me define. Yet when given the name of the source the smell would collapse into sudden logical understanding. "Of course that was peach, of course." Yet after being named, the smell would undoubtedly lack the many intricacies I had smelled previously. I realized how rarely I experienced smell without a symbolic link. Even smells I might experience walking along the street are linked to my current environment and location.

I thought I knew where my sensory experience was being buffered by cognition. I thought I was aware of when I wasn't aware. But if I overlooking something as fundamental as my sense of smell, what else am I overlooking. Discovering my own ignorance of my own ignorance is empowering, invigorating, and deeply relieving.

During our smell walk, I realized that not only was my sense of smell dependent on its source, but also deeply tied to all my other senses, specifically touch. The different experience of smell while feeling a cold breeze on my face verses a warm still air was large, not because of the way they carried scent, but simply perceptually. I’m not sure that my sense of smell can be at all removed from the entire sensory environment that it is experienced in. I’m not sure that any of the senses exist and act independently to themselves.

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