This morning Racine Avenue in Chicago transformed, for just a moment, to Ngong Road in Nairobi. Hurrying to get to work, I walked blindly into a cloud of diesil fumes left by a passing bus. The suffocating smell of polluted air caused me to think, just for a moment, that I was actually in Kenya. This reaction was strong enough to cause me to turn around to see if it actually was a Citi Hoppa. Obviously it wasn’t (just an average yellow school bus) but the 5 second experience got me thinking about the power of smell and memories.
An article by Karl S. Kruszelnicki explains the science behind my reaction to the stinky diesil fumes:
Traditionally, we humans have five senses – they’re smell, hearing, vision, touch and taste. But only two of these senses are based on chemicals – smell and taste. Smell and taste let us sample the chemicals around us for information. But smell is different from all the other senses in a very special way. A smell from your distant past can unleash a flood of memories that are so intense and striking that they seem real – and we’re getting close to understanding why.
This kind of memory, where an unexpected re-encounter with a scent from the distant past brings back a rush of memories, is called a “Proustian Memory”.
I guess the nose knows.