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 Post subject: A Phenomenology of Smell
PostPosted: 23 Jul 2013, 17:56 
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A Phenomenology of Smell

The aim of this thread is to discuss material culture related to the sense of smell.

There exists far more in the world than the smell of weather bison leather; a favorite genre in which I am interested is incense.

If you're Asian and or have traveled to shrines and temples ensconsed in Eastern religious traditions, you ought to have realized that there is far more to incense than the terrible Nag Champas (and overwhelming Indian style) incenses that we so commonly identify as incense to the exclusion of the more nuanced incenses long native to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. These incenses are typically based on the ingredients of traditional Chinese medicine.

Let's discuss our esoteric olfactory discoveries here and perhaps expand our ability to "listen" to the extraordinary scents that are available and associated with Buddhist and Daoist traditions.

Discussion of other quality incenses is certainly invited as well.

Cheers, MBD


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PostPosted: 24 Jul 2013, 15:37 
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This is a really interesting topic, and I am looking forward to read more about it here!
While I know really nothing about incenses, I wanted to add a note on the scientific theories of scent, since there is an ongoing controversy in this domain, and it might be interesting for some of you.

According to the generally accepted theory of scent, different scents are recognized by the receptors in the nose, which detect the shape of the molecules that make up the scent. Not long ago, this theory has been challenged by Luca Turin, a scientist with an extraordinary sense of smell:
Quote:
Luca Turin observed that the shape theory has never been developed enough to make predictions about what a molecule will smell like, based on its shape. Nor has data mining the huge inventories of perfume companies discovered robust shape-smell correlations. In fact, molecules that are similar in shape sometimes smell very different. Turin’s best example of this is that isotopes of the same substance, which are almost the same shape, often smell quite different. [...] Moreover, molecules that are very different in shape sometimes smell almost the same. For example, four different molecules, each very differently shaped, smell of ambergris (which is actually the undigested and rancid vomit of whales). And boranes, which contain no sulphur and have a very different shape from sulphurs, smell sulphurous. Tellingly, borane-hydrogen bonds have almost the same vibrational frequency (2550) as sulphur-hydrogen bonds (2500). Turin’s own theory about the detection of smell, a development of the frequency theory of Dyson (1938) and Wright (1977), is that smell detectors work by probing the vibrational frequencies of odorant molecules. The probing is done with inelastic electron tunneling, a quantum mechanical phenomenon. Turin’s theory predicts that molecules with the same vibrational frequencies will smell the same, and that the closer the vibrational frequencies, the closer the smell.
Miriam Solomon, "Norms of Dissent" http://www.lse.ac.uk/CPNSS/projects/CoreResearchProjects/ContingencyDissentInScience/DP/SolomonNormsOfDissent0908Online.pdf, p. 9-10.
Turin's book "The Secret of Scent" came out in 2006, while Chandler Burr wrote a story about the early years of this controversy: "The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession and the Last Mystery of the Senses" (2002). In recent years it seems that Turin has collaborated with other scientists in pursuit of his theory and its refinements, but I am not sure what the most recent developments have been exactly.


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PostPosted: 24 Jul 2013, 16:00 
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I sometimes think of aesthetic sensitivity unbundled into the different component senses.

Rilu's post referencing Turin made me think of this recent discovery regarding tetrachromacy:

http://digitaljournal.com/article/326976

The heightened colour sensitivity is something I often use as a justification for my chromophobia and concomitant aversion to what I deem "colour pollution" or any profusion of excessively bright or voluminous colour. However, I think I would rather be colour-sensitive than scent-sensitive, due to the amount of awful smells out there, especially in cities...

Maybe Turin and other scent-aesthetes have the four-cone equivalent rocking around in their sinus cavities...I don't know near enough physiology to know how that would work though...


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PostPosted: 24 Jul 2013, 19:51 
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^ ha, what an interesting phenomenon, heedless! thanks for sharing the article :)


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