The Relentless Sense

The Relentless Sense

We live in a world of sight, sound and smell. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Kiechle: I think the world of smell is fascinating. It’s something that all humans are using at all times and yet we rarely have to think about it.

Melanie Kiechle is an assistant professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts at Virginia Tech. She says that like sound, the sense of smell is always with us.

Kiechle: It’s not unlike sound. The only significant difference is that we’ve developed lots of ways to cover our ears and not so many ways to cover our noses. We’re constantly inhaling and we identify freshly mown grass or cow manure or whatever industry you happen to be nearby, and you react subtly. But you don’t ever think about it. And that’s one of the things I think is so fascinating with a sense of smell. Your body is constantly receiving information and reacting, but you don’t have to act consciously.
You can rapidly adjust to smells that you’re constantly exposed to. So you don’t notice smells typically unless they’re strong or unusual, meaning they’re not the normal odor of a place.
For instance, I visited Peru and when I walked out of the airport I was overwhelmed by the odors. because they don’t have any auto emissions controls. I didn’t want to breathe. It smelled that badly. My body was reacting. But I adjusted while I was there.

Historically, our tolerance for certain smells has changed.

Kiechle: A lot of odors that people would have found shocking in the 19th century, we live with every day. And so we don’t react as strongly as people then would have.

More on the subtle sense of smell in future programs. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

The Relentless Sense

There's lots of ways to tune out sights and sounds, but not smells.
Air Date:02/14/2018
Scientist:
Transcript:

The Relentless Sense

We live in a world of sight, sound and smell. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Kiechle: I think the world of smell is fascinating. It's something that all humans are using at all times and yet we rarely have to think about it.

Melanie Kiechle is an assistant professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts at Virginia Tech. She says that like sound, the sense of smell is always with us.

Kiechle: It's not unlike sound. The only significant difference is that we've developed lots of ways to cover our ears and not so many ways to cover our noses. We're constantly inhaling and we identify freshly mown grass or cow manure or whatever industry you happen to be nearby, and you react subtly. But you don't ever think about it. And that's one of the things I think is so fascinating with a sense of smell. Your body is constantly receiving information and reacting, but you don't have to act consciously.
You can rapidly adjust to smells that you're constantly exposed to. So you don't notice smells typically unless they're strong or unusual, meaning they're not the normal odor of a place.
For instance, I visited Peru and when I walked out of the airport I was overwhelmed by the odors. because they don't have any auto emissions controls. I didn't want to breathe. It smelled that badly. My body was reacting. But I adjusted while I was there.

Historically, our tolerance for certain smells has changed.

Kiechle: A lot of odors that people would have found shocking in the 19th century, we live with every day. And so we don't react as strongly as people then would have.

More on the subtle sense of smell in future programs. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.