Recently I worked on Fragrance dictionary and decided to illustrate some definition of words. I am not exactly satisfied with a result, but this effort opened a new question. “What’s beyond nose in scent interpretation?”
Information revolution has highly changed our perception of environment. Our living spaces are not defined only by four dimensions of space and time but also by information messages beyond physically touchable perceptions. A flood of communication possibilities transferred only with sequences of 0 and 1 make our perception somehow broader but confusing. Information of hidden properties and spiritual values has moved from human physically art expressions into immense “noise” of mostly visual but also other kinds of blurred impressions.
Scent perception was always vital part of surviving possibilities of most species, including people. Information gathered by nose is vital for identification of food quality and for avoidance of dangers connected with natural emanations like sulphur dioxide, ammonia, chlorine, etc… Problem of scent emanation is always in space and time restrictions. Its hard to transmit impression of scent over the ocean without physical movement of scent source. Possibilities of other senses for description of scent are rather scarce.
Generally, we distinguish five senses: seeing, listening, touching, tasting and last not least smelling. Most of us rely on sight as primary tool for fast registration of our position in space and its possibilities to recognize patterns with some abstraction. This patterns like writing, pictures, other abstract visually processed objects enable us to form tools like reading. Reading is easily transferred into listening possibility and use another channel of transferring information (hearing). If we presume blindness of some individual the sense of touch combined with listening can give us quite good perception of material, we deal with. In this case scent delivers extremely precise information about food without seeing it. Or if we are not able to listen, sight and other senses can help us to perceive almost complete information we need. It is known that people who lack one of senses develop better intensity and accuracy of other senses to compensate malfunction. Maybe Helen Keller story is a best case about that.
In one of my previous blogs I write about vocabulary of scent. Expressing scent perception in word is very difficult work. A prove of that are relatively poor descriptions of scent in literature. The problem is not in authors lack of imagination. The problem is a scarcity of expressions connected with scent. Some languages allow us to be better as English language, but apparatus is still far from millions of scents we can easily distinguish with nose. Sometimes I am looking for new materials for my work as perfumer and it is surprising how few words are used for description of materials scent. Situation is even worse with interpretations of scent trough voice, touch or visual objects (visual arts). If we want to present scent, we need all other senses to make transmitting of scent values understandable even if scent is not physically present.
Perfumers from ancient times have discovered that arts can help a lot to transmit a feeling and character of precious scent composed from natural materials. Thousands of years back in history scent was produced in sophisticated manners and poured in special containers combined with artistic work of design and decoration. Later in industrial development and still today optical appearance became an equal part of fragrance creation. With progress in broadcasting of sound picture and moving picture the ability to mediate information grows. Abstract roots of scent nature allow never-ending possibility for play with combinations of information flow with a goal of unique definition of this one special scent. Maybe in some future it will be possible to synthesise impression of scent with direct impact on brain. I believe it will be possible to simulate electrical picture of scent but hardly to simulate unique impression combined from scent perception and other senses based on memories and events of human being.
It’s a big challenge to present scent to all of us. Let imagination free to create all the possible (and impossible) combinations for presentation of fragrance to the world.