A Fragrant Universe

May 10, 2015 at 8:01 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

imagesTitle: Pheromones and Animal Behavior

Author: Tristram D. Wyatt

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Genre: Science / Animal Communication

Length: 391 pages

“[…] one doesn’t realise how much ‘savor’ is smell. You smell people, you smell books, you smell the city, you smell the spring – maybe not consciously, but as rich unconscious background to everything else. My whole world was suddenly radically poorer.” – O. Sacks, The man who mistook his wife for a hat

So completely fascinated with the human scent and sense of smell this month, I picked up a textbook on pheromones at the public library.

What I’ve learned is that I can read up on everything there is to know scientifically about ones sense of smell and how they use it, but I still won’t completely understand all the nuances of how that affects interpersonal communications. Correction – I understand how, but not why it affects us so completely.

Having this knowledge of the how should enable me to shut it off when it does not suit my emotional well being, right? After all, knowledge is power.

No. We, as humans, are too complex for that. (Or simple, depending on how you look at it.) Our emotions can even heighten our perception of these smells, tie that to menstrual cycles and memory and we’re pretty much screwed to always have knee jerk reactions to certain scents whether we like it or not.

Even Wyatt states in the closing chapter of his textbook:

“One of the major challenges to human pheromone research is that of designing rigorous experiments that eliminate other cues and variables. As well as the complexity of odour that being a mammal brings, humans are also complex emotionally. This makes us doubly difficult as experimental subjects.”

I absolutely adore the smell of a well cared for old book. But the effect that beautiful freshly cut grass mixed with vanilla, a tinge of dust, and leather has on me can be overwhelming or something I barely note in passing, depending on the mood I’m already in.

All this sensory awareness just reminds me of a John Oehler book I read awhile back, Aphrodesia – and led me to finally committing to pick up the book Perfume by Suskind (which I haven’t done just yet, but will soon). People have been talking about it for years, I’ve been shelving copies of it at the bookstore in droves for as long as I’ve worked there. It’s even on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, but I don’t read the books on that list merely because they are on it – I try to let those titles come to me organically via other means of gathering more books for my TBR pile. All of these things in Suskind’s favorite, but his work never really moved me until now.

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Masson Tries to Make You Weep…

January 28, 2011 at 1:24 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

in When Elephants Weep

I enjoyed the anecdotes quite a bit, this parrot learns to say this, that elephant painted that, this species is documented as feeling empathy towards that species in a rare moment, the monkeys are a lot like us, but so are the fish etc. etc.  I agree with most the points, animal cruelty is wrong, experimentation needs to have stricter rules, we should treat the animal world with respect.  However, I don’t want to become a vegetarian and I didn’t care for how the opening and ending arguments basically boiled down this beautiful essay to we shouldn’t eat meat.  Apparently that’s what this was about to them, to me this book was about how beautifully complex our world is, but I can’t argue with the authors themselves.  By the end of the book they had achieved a level of redundancy I don’t think I’ve ever managed to read in any other book my whole life.  This book’s saving grace was those amazing animals that starred in it, but if I hear /read the word “anthropomorphism” I think I’ll scream, and if someone tries to guilt trip me out of eating my steak I’ll kindly smile, cut, and chew. And if I’m told I’m a bad person for taking my daughter to the zoo, well, I’m sorry you feel that way, I’m going anyway.

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