by Justin Deschamps,
In the modern world, the scents we are exposed to have been carefully designed to hijack a deeply ingrained process for storing core memories, along with other vital functions. In the following Ted Talk, a perfumer named Holladay Saltz discusses just how important smell is in human life.
The olfactory process—our sense of smell—is one of the oldest and most influential, tying directly into memory, appetite, revulsion, and sexual excitement. Almost every creature on the planet, including, plants, exchange chemicals that signal various biological functions into action. For humans, scent is no less integral. But unlike animals, humans have the capacity to imprint biases on to scents that are not genetically preconditioned.
In nature, scents are directly tied to aggressive and reproductive processes. A male dog can smell a female dog in heat up to three miles away. Merely via scent alone, a dog will stop everything it’s doing, succumbing to an overwhelming desire to find a mate.
Researchers have studied and identified several olfactory nerve centers where proteins encoded thereon directly tie to instinctual drives, activated once a scent has been detected. Consider that the vast majority of mammalian behaviors related to aggression and sexual drives are completely ubiquitous—responses to certain scents elicit the same regular mating or aggressive behaviors. But for humans, these instincts are far more subtle and changeable.
Why is this the case?
In my studies of scent and people, much becomes apparent. Particularly, that human beings have a much more fluid capacity to bias responses to stimuli in ways that counter biological biases.
For example, armpit odor should be an attractor to you, due to biological bias, but in most cases, only your partner’s underarm order is appealing—and even then, many people don’t find it desirable. How is it possible that such a strong biological drive can be overcome and even cause the reverse response of disgust?
I theorize that choice so profoundly alters neural pathways, as has been demonstrated by dopaminergic and serotonergic processes, it’s actually possible to train your brain to find biologically biased scents unpleasant. This shouldn’t be the case if we merely look at neurology and somatic processes (unconscious body processes), but nevertheless, people seem to be able to diverge from evolutionary instincts.
If your first experience of a scent was positive, it’s likely you’ll keep that bias throughout life. But in human society, social norms play a large role in determining subjective experience—whether you like something or not. Even if you personally find a scent attractive, odds are you’ll develop some aversion to it if the cultural norm considers the enjoyment of it taboo. From here, the body can respond implicitly to a scent with revulsion that it previously found enjoyable. Once a disgust response has been installed, it tends to overwhelm any previous positive association, further reinforced by negative social interaction (shame), unless a conscious choice to overcome the instinct is made.
As a possible explanation for this, consider that scent is immersive, you can’t escape a smell once you’re in it. As anyone who’s changed a baby’s diaper knows, there’s no getting away from that strong odor. Because of this immersive quality, scent is one of the senses that seems to trigger the most intense emotional responses related to pleasure or disgust. What’s even more interesting is that these responses don’t seem to be genetically programmed like in our animal cousins.
In animals, the scent of a certain kind of food elicits a desire to consume. But in humans, some people smell food and crave it whereas others smell the same food and find it revolting, like the smell of brussel sprouts, which have a sulfur scent when cooking. The sheer range of flexibility with to respect scent suggest that we formulate our core smell proclivities through subjective experience, we play some role in deciding if we like a scent, which then creates a bias that can last our entire lives.
Why is this important?
Big chemical companies have understood the importance of scent for decades, arguably for far longer. Particularly, pheromones are chemicals produced by living creatures for the purpose of eliciting some physiological response. Of course, you can’t alter a person behavior with the same level of potency and consistency as an animal, and yet, we are nonetheless highly motivated and influenced by smell.
As Saltz shares in her presentation, core memories are intimately associated with smell. From a psychological perspective, the biases we use to navigate reality, particularly related to biological needs and emotional reactions, are intimately associated with deeply rooted memories. The memories, biases, and programs you developed between the age of zero to seven, research shows, create life long patterns that are extremely difficult to change. So from a scent perspective, if a product manufacturer can get you to identify cleanness with the smell of a product, like Tide, before you turn seven years old, it’s likely your implicit sense of cleanliness will forever be associated with that smell.
Salts suggests that this is a gross and insidious manipulation of human life.
Consider that subtle scents encountered in life burn themselves into our memory, and depending on the character of the memory created, these smells will become a trigger for recall later in life. During such a recall experience, deep and often imperceptible alterations in perception, mood, and overall cognition can be felt. This suggests that scent may just be the most powerful sense we possess, namely because of the nearly all-encompassing effect it has on us.
But in our modern world, artificial scents dominate. One hundred years ago, cleansers, deodorants, perfumes, air fresheners, hand soaps, and so on, didn’t exist. Back then, the catalog of scents that you experienced in life was almost entirely natural. And as such, your memories and experiences were more nuanced, refined, and detailed. Today, a kind of scent tyranny has descended on humankind, creating a desolate olfactory landscape of scent blandness.
Consider that, in the modern world, most people think their natural scent disgusting, and work tirelessly every day to wash it away, replacing it with colognes, body wash, deodorant, and lotion.
For one of the first times in history, natural biological scents related to sexual excitement now elicit disgust, on average, instead of enticement. While this might seem like an inconsequential thing to consider, it may be one of the most glaring examples of the agenda to separate man from nature, part of a total control and domination strategy.
Body dysmorphia “is a mental disorder characterized by the obsessive idea that some aspect of one’s own body part or appearance is severely flawed and warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix their dysmorphic part on their person.”
Now consider how most people in the modern world look at their natural bodily processes, particularly ones that are associated to body odors. It should hopefully be obvious that product manufacturers have slowly twisted our cultural biases such that most people now suffer from a form of body dysmorphia with respect to scent. It’s considered abnormal to not use some kind of scent enhanced product on your body, and as a result, natural scents elicit a culturally reinforced negative response. This positive feedback loop accelerates with time. As another example, consider that it is now the norm for most people to remove genital hair as a cosmetic preference—again an unprecedented event in human history. These examples and several others suggest the substrate of what we define as normal and natural in human life is changing rapidly, and not for the better.
As a general principle, when we cannot accept the whole truth about something, a skism forms in the psyche that often results in neurotic tendencies. Neuroticism is a personality trait that reduces a person’s resilience to negative emotion, making them irrational when triggered. Thus, the more we diverge from accepting our natural forms, the more neurotic we become, and therefore, the more irrational and easily manipulated we can be. If this doesn’t give you pause, then consider that most body care products that contain artificial scents are highly toxic and disrupt the endocrine system—the hormonal system our bodies need to be healthy.
For most of you, the idea that we should feel anything less than revulsion related to natural odors is a strange proposition. But research suggests we’re heavily influenced by these natural odors. For example, the major histocompatibility complex (MHT) are genes associated to the immune system. You will likely find people with different MHT factors more sexually appealing because if you have a child with someone who has different factors, your children will have a stronger immune system. This is one example of how scent directly plays a role in who we find sexually attractive.
Finally, another study suggested that “those with a better sense of smell did report finding their sexual relations more pleasant, and women with more sensitive noses were significantly more likely to orgasm during sex than those who struggle to smell things.” This finding suggests that scent not only plays a vital, yet imperceptible role in mate selection, it also plays a role directly in pleasure, especially during sex.
Saltz suggests that we are being assaulted by artificial scents everywhere in the modern world, and these scents are changing us in ways we can’t really understand. Although we tend to pay little attention to scent as a topic of careful study, product manufacturers most definately are spending time and money ensuring that what you smell works in concert with their agenda. And make no mistake the powers that be are chiefly interested in manipulating your behavior, and use any and all methods available to do so. Given these realities, I think it is a very good idea for you to reconsider some of the preconceived and little questioned notions you have about scent.
Speaking as someone who has spent years working to liberate myself from what I can disgust programs, I can tell you that overcoming revulsion related to scent is very healing. This is a rather complex subject, but when it comes down to it, the more we can embrace the natural aspects of life, the more emotionally fulfilled we become.
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About The Author
Justin Deschamps has been a truth seeker all his life. He studies physics, psychology, law, philosophy, and spirituality, working to weave these seemingly separate bodies of information into a holistic tapestry of ever expanding knowledge. Justin is a student of all and a teacher to some. He humbly seeks those who are willing to take responsibility for making themselves and the world a better place. The goal of his work is to help himself and others become better truth-seekers, and in doing so, form a community of holistically minded individuals capable of creating world healing projects for the benefit of all life—what has been called The Great Work. Check out his project Stillness in the Storm to find some of his work. Follow on Twitter @sitsshow, Facebook Stillness in the Storm, and minds.com.
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