Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Smells like history.

For those regular readers of this blog, you may know that I have some memory problems, due to an accident in 1988, just recently some memories have started coming back, I have now noticed that smells have started triggering memories as well. Some smells have always set off some memories, but just lately almost any smell has triggered a memory or two.

I really noticed this the other day, I got a waft of what I assume was popcorn, suddenly I found myself walking through Battersea funfair in the late 60's, very odd feeling, especially as I was crossing the road in Kings cross. Later a smell I could not identify (possibly glue?) took me back to a holiday on Hayling Island aged around 7. I have no idea why the smell of glue would trigger that one, looking into this I find there are lots of examples of the link between memory and smell, if fact there are 1000's of different texts on the subject, some make sense, some dont.
There are a myriad of theories as to why this happens, my favourite is that it is suvival based, having smell linked to memory allows us to remember what bad food smells like, or maybe a saber toothed predator. Some foods can look quite good, until you smell them. Smell is definetly an important sense, as much so as sight and taste and I think more so than touch, smell triggers more memories than any of the other senses, so our bodies must think its an important one. Back when we were single celled animals, smell was the fist sense to tell us if something was 'safe' to eat, and still plays a big part in safeguarding us from bad things.

What I dont understand is why some of the memories are so intense, during my reading I came across this by Karl S. Kruszelnicki

This kind of memory, where an unexpected re-encounter with a scent from the distant past brings back a rush of memories, is called a "Proustian Memory". It's named after Marcel Proust, one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century. He describes this phenomenon in the opening chapter of his novel Swan's Way, the first novel in his mammoth seven-part work, Remembrance Of Things Past.
He writes how the smell of a madeleine cake (a small, rich pastry) dipped into a lime-blossom tea, unleashed a rush of brilliantly-clear memory: "and as soon as I had recognised the taste of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me ... immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set ... and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine."

This is almost exactly what happens to me, not that particular memory but one of my own,
the scene is almost real before me, non of them last long though, maybe a few seconds, but its all helping to bring back memories long lost. This may take some reasearch.

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