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.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

Physicists puzzled by strange numbers that could explain reality

Eight-dimensional octonions may hold the clues to solve fundamental mysteries.

Surprising Science
  • Physicists discover complex numbers called octonions that work in 8 dimensions.
  • The numbers have been found linked to fundamental forces of reality.
  • Understanding octonions can lead to a new model of physics.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less