You Smell What I’m Steppin’ In?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, March 19, 2015 2 comments

by Steve Risner

Olfaction comprises a huge portion of our chemosensory system and it is amazing! Did I scare you with those terms? Okay. How about this: our ability to determine what chemicals are in the air or in our mouths is mostly determined by our sense of smell. Olfaction is the fancy word for smell and literally means “to do the smelling” in its Latin origins. We rarely think of our sense of smell but it's working all the time—ALL the time. We'll breathe something like 20,000 times today inhaling about 250 cubic feet of air and every single time we will smell tons of different chemicals in the air and hardly take notice. That's because our sense of smell has a very fast ability to acclimate to smells. That just means we stop noticing smells pretty quickly. If you think about it, that's good. The air is filled with all sorts of smells all the time. If we paid attention to all those smells, we'd not have time to do anything else. Let's take a closer look at this amazing sense.

The ability to smell is the first sense to develop and is fully functional at birth. Many believe the sense of smell is something that dramatically increases the bond between mother and baby. This makes sense in light of the fact that studies show a woman's favorite smell is that of a newborn baby. What is a man's favorite smell, you ask? Breakfast—no lie. There are several other things that make the top of the list including new car smell, leather, crayons, and cinnamon. Women typically have a much better sense of smell than men and the younger you are the better your sense of smell. After age 80, most of us won't be able to smell much. So smell the roses while you still can.

Olfaction is a very important sense although very little attention gets paid to it. In fact, more of the known expressed human genome is for this sense than for anything else! 1% of your genes go to your ability to smell! Isn't that crazy? Nearly every air, land, or water dwelling creature has the ability to smell—even bacteria. Not everyone uses their nose, especially if they don't have one. But the benefit of detecting chemicals in the air or on a surface is critical for life. Our sense of smell triggers more memories and emotions than any other, and we recall smells much better and much longer than visual memories. Most of our sense of taste comes from our ability to smell as well—in some cases up to 95%. Ever wonder why things taste differently when you have a stuffy nose or why they tell you to pinch your nose when you eat your peas?

Our capacity to smell is unique among our special senses—taste, smell, sight, hearing, and touch. Some classify the olfactory nerve, the nerve that extends from our brains into the upper portion of our nasal sinus, as literally an extension of our brains and not really a nerve. Of all the cranial nerves—those nerves that originate in our brains rather than our spine—the first one, our olfactory nerve, has the ability to regenerate. In truth, we get a new nose every month or so! It's also the most variable of our senses. We literally have the potential to identify a trillion different smells. If this doesn't blow your mind, think of a dog's ability to smell. They have 40-50 times the receptors for smell that we have!

What's the sense of smell good for? Lots! You can tell what's in the air around you, which is pretty important and has the potential to save your life. Your sense of smell is directional as well, meaning you can tell from which direction a smell is coming. That's why it's hard to get away with passing gas in a group of friends. You also taste with your sense of smell. But there are other things it's useful for as well. Research shows us that you can smell fear or other emotions. Different chemicals are released in our bodies when we feel certain emotions. These chemicals make their way into our sweat and can be transmitted to those around us who may be influenced to feel the same way. Smell is also important in bonding and in sexual attraction. This is much stronger, it seems, in the animal kingdom than with humans (most of our sense of smell is dwarfed by much of the animal kingdom). There are some scientists who are developing ways to use a person's distinct smell—every person has their own smell just like their DNA or fingerprints—to help solve crimes!

How's it work? I'll tell you: As we breathe, air fills our nasal passages. This pathway from outside our face to the top of our nasal passage is complicated in and of itself with bones that direct and funnel air, hairs that filter out particles, bacteria, and other things, to mucous that keeps the area moist and healthy. This air is laden with chemicals. About 15% of the air we breathe will make contact with the olfactory nerve fibers. These fibers are extremely specific and a chemical that enters here fits one of those fibers perfectly like a lock and key. This causes the nerve to fire, sending a signal to the brain. Let's walk along the path this signal takes to the brain. The nerve fibers extend through the Cribriform Plate (which is much like a screen in the top of the nasal cavity) and enter the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb directly enters the brain via the olfactory tract. And this is where smell is deciphered. Your brain will have a strong recollection of each particular smell for about a year! Can you imagine glancing at a phone number for a second and being able to recall it a year later? Smell is a critical part of the human experience.

If you think that doesn't smell right, consider this: Some suggest the sense of smell is the oldest sense life developed. I actually don't think life developed that sense at all. I think that God gave it to every living thing that has it. The brilliance of the design of the sense of smell in humans and many organisms on the planet tells us quite loudly that it was designed this way—it was no accident or the result of a series of lucky mistakes. The faith of evolutionism relies heavily on luck and, essentially, magic since we know of no known natural processes that can account for the process of universal common descent. Believing in God as the Creator and Sustainer of life is not belief in magic but in an eternal Being Who designed everything from spiral galaxies to the Krebs Cycle—from arm hair to the reasons we cry. But make no mistake: both are faith-based systems that utilize science to support their claims, but neither (evolution and creation) is a scientific field.

Smell seems fairly symbolic to the God of the Bible. God gave specific directions to Moses for creating an oil used for anointing individuals or things for special purposes. This fragrance was used to anoint holy things like the tabernacle and also holy people such as kings, priests, and prophets. Why should you care about such things? Because, if you are a child of God, you are a king, a priest, and a temple. Few received this anointing in the Bible but it is now available to all! Jesus said the aroma of His children was sweet to the Lord and smelled a bit like giving sight to the blind, proclaiming the Gospel to the poor and oppressed, and declaring freedom for the captive! If you have the smell of that fragrance, the anointing of God, you are empowered to do these awesome things and so much more! For study, compare Isaiah 61:1-2 with Luke 4:18 and then go be those things to this lost and dying world.

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Bob Sorensen said...

I am pleased with your fragrant offering here.

Back when I was watching Ghost Hunters, they would use all sorts of equipment to try to record paranormal activities. Some things were captured on video, audio, infrared and so forth. But nobody can capture smells, only try to reproduce them.

Another thing that's interesting to me is how certain smells trigger memories, sometimes of things that we had though were forgotten, or not thought about for many years.

Nothing really useful there, just thought I'd share those thoughts.

Steve said...

Thank Bob. You're right. The sense of smell is more closely tied to memory than any other sense. I think that's remarkable.
As usual, I appreciate your comments and thank you for reading.