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2:36pm on Thursday, 20th October, 2005:

Taste and Smell


I don't know how it is for other people, but for me taste and smell are the same sense. If I smell something, it "feels" exactly the same as if I tasted it, and vice versa. In the same way that if I look at something with my left eye then I get the same kind of sensory report as I would if I looked at it with my right eye (except from a slightly different perspective), if I taste something then I get the same kind of sensory report as I would if I smelled it.

Obviously, if something has multiple smells/tastes to it then some may have different properties. It may be that a volatile component dominates the smell and a non-volatile component dominates the taste. Isolated, though, each component would smell/taste the same (at least to me; I suspect to you, too).

It's well known that because smell-detectors are attached directly to the brain they are able to induce powerful memories in people, but if smell and taste use the same vocabulary of sensations then shouldn't a taste be able to do it too? It may be that the imprinting or the recognition has to be specifically by smell but the other can be by either, or it may be that it really does only work for smells recorded and re-sensed directly as smells.

Well, today I went to the Top Bar at the university to get something to drink with my bad burger, and I ordered a lemonade & blackcurrant. This primitive, purple cocktail was my staple beverage in my student days when everyone else was knocking back alcohol. I took one sip (and it was the sip I tasted, not the scent I smelled) and for a fleeting moment was transported back 25 years to when I used to play Missile Command and Battlezone in that same bar. It was the taste, not the smell, that did it.

There's definitely more of a link between these two senses than is generally made out.

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).