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Some Thoughts on the Sense of Smell in Analogy to Language

Michael M. Benarie
Leonardo
Vol. 7, No. 1 (Winter, 1974), pp. 19-22
Published by: The MIT Press
DOI: 10.2307/1572731
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1572731
Page Count: 4
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Some Thoughts on the Sense of Smell in Analogy to Language
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Abstract

Although chemoreception by the nose is very substance-specific, human odor perception exhibits characteristics in a way analogous to visual and auditory gestalt perception. That is, odor perception seems to result from a much more complex response than a simple one-to-one correspondence between the receptor sites and the molecular structure of the stimulant. Odor perception is considered by the author in analogy to a semantic information-conveying system. In animals, odor message interpretation is instinctive and fixed. At the human level some or all stimuli to the odor receptors have changing, contextual meaning. Their meaning can be modified by habit or by learning. The author postulates that sensory excitation due to pure chemical substances is similar to that due to words. They generally convey no meaning by themselves but only in context. This hypothesis suggests the adoption of techniques used in linguistics and cryptanalysis and the concept of olphemes, the odor perception equivalent of phonemes in language.

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