I am a natural-born, ‘ol hound dog when it comes to sniffing things out, especially other folks. It’s in my genes, your nature or your nurture, what have you.
Now my Maw could out-smell anyone, I guess on account of her being deaf in one ear, so it’s natural that she would place emphasis on one skill she still had both sides of. So it was important when I was growing up, being a good smeller and all.
So now, in the woods, on a damp, cool day, I might catch a whiff of a certain peppery smell of my brother, even if he’s walking up the other side of the hill, even 100 yards out, if the wind is blowing the right way.
I guess that makes him sound pretty smelly. But he’s not as bad as all that. Pretty typical, at least what with my own sniffing skills, which are like those of natural-born ‘ol hound dog.
But before you condemn me as some hillbilly side-show freak, be warned! I am not alone. We walk among you! In fact, I propose to you that practically everyone is doing the exact same kind of scent-ifying all the time, while the rest of us walk around with our heads stuck in the clouds, doing just the same.
Go tell it to the dachshund, right? You’re not buying this shaggy dog story because people’s noses at their best can’t hold a candle to Fido. “Look what he dug up! Hey, that’s Grandpa’s ring. I thought you said my sister took it.” But that evidence is only anecdotal. We must look to science.
Neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd at Yale has argued that although we have fewer odor receptors in our nose than other animals, we may compensate for this with an improved ability to analyze scent information with our large brains. He says, “We have a much better sense of smell than rats and dogs because of our greater brainpower,” We may just seem worse at scents because we don’t practice this skill from birth, the way that dogs do,” he argues. The way dogs do. Hmmm.
So a rose by any other nose would smell as sweet, since it’s the human brain that paints the picture. But smell your way to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice! Neuroscientist Noam Sobel of UC Berkley has taught humans to track chocolate like jes’ like a natural-born ‘ol hound dog. They, (the students I mean) can do it across the lawn usually on the first try. And with practice over several days, the students got better at tracking the chocolate trail, because the smart ones learn to sniff in stereo, back and forth across the trail, jes’ like a natural-born ‘ol hound dog.
That’s got to be a more useful skill than most of what these kids pick up today in college. Maybe we should start testing for that. Note to HR….
Now. If you are scratching your head wondering what sense of smell has as to do with language, then you’re going to have to keep scratching till next time, when we sniff out how human’s super-human sense of smell allows a smell-versation that never stops, all around us, all the time, silently and unconsciously, and which is, emotionally speaking, the very air we breathe.
Smell you later,