A World Without the Olfactory Dimension


Correspondence to: Marta Tafalla, Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Philosophy Department, Campus de Bellaterra, Cerdanyola del Vallés, Barcelona E-08193, Spain. E-mail: Marta.Tafalla@uab.es


This article aims to describe what is it like to perceive reality when suffering from congenital anosmia. Nevertheless, this objective entails a fundamental difficulty. Since I have never had the experience of olfaction, it seems natural to me to live in a world lacking the olfactory dimension; this subjective perception is the only one I know and in consequence it is difficult to describe. For this reason, in recent years I have begun to develop long conversations with other people suffering from congenital anosmia, people who have lost their sense of olfaction in adulthood and also people with a good sense of smell. My goal is to draw a map showing the principal differences that might allow us to develop a systematic comparison. Obviously, this is not an experimental or quantitative scientific procedure, but only a modest attempt to compare personal stories about subjective experiences. It is a philosophical-literary exercise, and does not aim to be anything other than that. But I hope it will help to formulate meaningful questions, which would then need a properly scientific approach. In the first part of this article I want to try to describe how I became aware that other people could smell; and in a second part, I will try to examine the consequences of anosmia in different areas of everyday life: nourishment, relationships with people, own body perception, natural or urban environments perception, time perception, and finally aesthetic appreciation and the implications of living in a world without stench. Anat Rec, 296:1287-1296, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.