One Sniff and You're Transported Back in Time. Why Is That?

Biologist Stuart Firestein talks about the connection between smells, tastes, and memory.


You’re not especially thinking about the past or anything when a certain scent wafts in and — bam — you’re suddenly transported back to a precious moment from your past in a way that feels as nearly real as a memory can feel. For just a second or so, you’re there. It’s strange how smells summon memories in a way that goes beyond the capabilities of other senses. Photos are great for looking back, as are videos and audio recordings, but nothing hits us as instantly or vividly as a remembered smell. Only our sense of taste — working together with our olfactory system — carries a comparable wallop, and it’s mostly about things we don’t want to remember.

Here’s what scientists have figured out so far about the powerful connection between smell, taste, and memory. Biologist Stuart Firestein works with the olfactory receptor neuron as a platform for understanding the interactions between various chemicals and the brain.

Of course, in trying to understand the connection between smell, taste, and memory, a new mystery link appears: The one between emotion and memory.

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

7 fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Here are 7 often-overlooked World Heritage Sites, each with its own history.

Photo by Raunaq Patel on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites are locations of high value to humanity, either for their cultural, historical, or natural significance.
  • Some are even designated as World Heritage Sites because humans don't go there at all, while others have felt the effects of too much human influence.
  • These 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites each represent an overlooked or at-risk facet of humanity's collective cultural heritage.
Keep reading Show less

Following sex, some men have unexpected feelings – study

A new study shows that some men's reaction to sex is not what you'd expect, resulting in a condition previously observed in women.

Credit: Pixabay
Sex & Relationships
  • A new study shows men's feelings after sex can be complex.
  • Some men reportedly get sad and upset.
  • The condition affected 41% of men in the study
Keep reading Show less

Scientists discover how to trap mysterious dark matter

A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.

Surprising Science
  • Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
  • Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
  • The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
Keep reading Show less