The smell from a grill can spark up nostalgia

Pax Arcana

We’ve known for a long time that smell is the human sense most connected to our memories. For many people, the scent of cooked turkey and stuffing conjures memories of Thanksgiving dinner, while the smell of Chinese food, cheap Rye, and vomit conjures memories of Christmas dinner.

For me, the smell of salt air, rubies, toffee, vulcanized rubber, bananas, battery acid, petting zoos, and jealousy transport me back to those halcyon days in the Royal Air Force during the great one. I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure I have a good idea of what it smelled like.

Anyway, scientists say the science behind the phenomenon has to do with your lambics getting caught up in the tryptics and Padma Lakshmi. Hang on, let’s let them explain it:

Importantly, the olfactory cortex is embedded within the brain’s limbic system and amygdala, where emotions are born and emotional memories stored. That’s why smells, feelings and memories become so easily and intimately entangled, and why the simple act of washing dishes recently made Dr. Herz’s cousin break down and cry. “The smell of the dish soap reminded her of her grandmother,” said Dr. Herz, author of “The Scent of Desire.”

Also, smells might help keep your brain sharp while you wait for death in front of Matlock at the nursing home:

Studying groups of Swedes whose average age was 75, the researchers offered three different sets of the same 20 memory cues — the cue as a word, as a picture and as a smell. The scientists found that while the word and visual cues elicited associations largely from subjects’ adolescence and young adulthood, the smell cues evoked thoughts of early childhood, under the age of 10.

And despite the comparative antiquity of such memories, Dr. Larsson said, people described them in exceptionally rich and emotional terms, and they were much likelier to report the sudden sensation of being brought back in time. They smelled cardamom, and there they were in the kitchen, flour dust flying as they helped Mama and Nana roll out the holiday buns. The scent of tar, and they’re back at the dock with Dad, tarring the bottom of the family boat in anticipation of long summer sails.

The scent of tar reminds me of my father, too, and how we’d tar the neighbors’ entire yard if that bitch of theirs wouldn’t stop shitting in the begonias.

The Nose, an Emotional Time Machine [NYT]


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