“When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.” — Marcel Proust
Of all the senses, smell is the best at bringing memories to the surface. The smell of what my mom called “Porcupines” (meatballs made with rice) immediately transports me to the kitchen of my childhood. The smell of gardenia takes me to Presidio Park in southern California. And like a magic carpet ride, the smell of evergreen with a hint of barnyard whisks me to the Highlands of Scotland.
When an odor stimulates chemoreceptors in the nose, they send electrical impulses to the brain. In turn, the brain interprets patterns in electrical activity as specific odors and olfactory sensation becomes perception that’s linked to the amygdala and hippocampus—parts in the brain that process emotion and are fundamental to our behavior, mood, and memory.
More so than seeing or hearing, different smells serve as keys that unlock memories—of people, places, and things—in our brain.
What’s your favorite smell/memory association?
“Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
— Laurie Buchanan
© 2011 Laurie Buchanan – All Rights Reserved