Smell This!

When I learned about dogs using a larger portion of their brains to process olfactory data than we humans use to process vision, I realized that there was no way I could possibly gain a full and complete understanding of what it feels like to be a dog.

We use a large part of our human brain to process vision. My brain seems so directly connected to my eyes that I can’t really tell them apart. It feels like my vision IS my eyes. I can’t imagine how it would feel if my nose worked like that.

In addition is the completely different way in which the olfactory sense works compared to sight. Light travels in a straight line under normal circumstances. Not so with raw, olfactory, sense data. Everything a dog smells is some particle or gas which has entered his nose traveling on fickle currents of air. The currents change so subtly and quickly that they require a sense organ that we do not even possess: vibrissae. With its vibrissae, the dog senses information about the strength and directions of these currents. Our sense of sight has nothing analogous to the vibrissae, to say nothing of the vomero-nasal organ.

Trying to imagine this kind of acuity in my olfactory sense simply confounds my feeble brain. Even our language is ill suited to describe it. I just used the word “Imagine” in a context that almost makes it ironic. But you probably zipped right over that as you read along because, as humans, we are so visually oriented that nothing “looked” out of place. We are talking about a dog’s sense of smell and we have to use language that describes sight just to deal with it. Do we have a word in the English language for conceptualizing in olfactory terms? I don’t think so. We imagine things, we envision things. We might say, “I smell a rat” or use similar expressions that invoke the sense of smell but I can’t think of a word related to the olfactory sense that is otherwise synonymous with “imagine”.

Humans often speak of visualizing things. We think in pictures and visualize our successes and failures, hopes and fears in a sort of visual inner dialog. The concept was so popular for a while that it appeared on bumper stickers. Remember the “Visualize World Peace” stickers?

The connotations of a word like “odorize” certainly don’t fit for us, but perhaps for a dog?

Odorize this!



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