Science historian and poetess Diane Ackerman starts today:
"Our sense of smell can be extraordinarily precise, yet it's almost impossible to describe how something smells to someone who hasn't smelled it… We see only where there is light enough, taste only when we put things into our mouths, touch only when we make contact with someone or something, hear only sounds that are loud enough to hear. But we smell always and with every breath. Cover your eyes and you will stop seeing, cover your ears and you will stop hearing, but if you cover your nose and stop smelling, you will die."
Ackerman continues in a book about sensory experience: "We live in a constant wash of them (odors). Still, when we try to describe a smell, words fail us like the fabrications they are… The charm of language is that, though it is human-made, it can on rare occasions capture emotions and sensations that aren't. But the physiological links between the smell and language centers of the brain are pitifully weak. Not so the links between the smell and the memory centers, a route that carries us nimbly across time and distance."
Why do we put on perfume ? Because perfume is liquid memory. Kipling wrote: “Smells are surer than sights and sounds to make your heart-strings crack.” Philosopher Bernard Stiegler writes in an essay about how the extinction of handwriting is changing our brains: "In a society where musical partitions don't exist, one cannot separate composition from interpretation" - Think of aboriginal music. Smell is one such experiential sub-universe where instance, performance and experience are hardly separable. That's why the smell of petrol might jolt souvenirs of past voyages in your brain without you being able to explain it .. and why we need each others' smell to truly know each other :)