September 28, 2007

The Scent of Desire by Rachel Herz

The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell, by Rachel Herz is a new book on the psychology of smell, that promises much -- that is, to astonish as it informs. There are a number of things not commonly known about this most mysterious of the senses, and one is that our receptors for smell outnumber all the others, except for vision. So it would seem that our sense of smell is a huge factor in our experience of reality. Another is that olfactory sensations shut down while we are asleep -- something I had not even thought about, but again, this goes to show there must be very important elements of memory and consciousness at play in our experience of a scent. But even scents we are not completely aware of can alter our perceptions, such as certain very minute, trace elements in a person's scent that triggers strong sexual attraction. This is especially true for women towards men. (This is the appeal to our deepest motivations which are behind all those sexy perfume ads -- but now I'm not sure those ads are very relevant; they should be depicting women swooning over men because of a fragrance rather than the other way around. It appears that women have a much deeper cyclical, whole body integration with their own particular sense of smell. Men appear to be much more visually motivated).

I have read some fascinating reviews, and have it on pre-order. The book will be out October 8. This book has to be a must read for anyone seriously interested in fragrance.

Also interesting is the view that aromatherapy is driven entirely by emotional association with a scent, rather than from any other property innately part of that particular smell. This is not the same as saying that many of the plant substances perfumes are derived from do not have some powerful and demonstrable medicinal effects and uses in their own right.

I am really looking forward to getting my hands on this book...

9 comments:

Anya said...

Hi Lucy
You've added another book to my growing list. I've gotten quite a few lately - Essential Oil Chemistry, Rimmel's 1st edition, Tisserand's Essential Oil Safety, Arctander's CD - searchable!, Lis-Balchin's Chemistry of Essential Oils, and the non-techie favorite - The Scent Trail by Celia Lyttelton. I blogged about it this week -- you must get it. An indulgent, over-the-top vicarious thrill as she visits the sources of the aromatics she has chosen for a bespoke perfume - Grasse, Tuscany, Morocco, India, Sudan, and many more! I'm lost in that book, it's mesmerizing.

chayaruchama said...

This sounds right up my alley.
I STILL am waiting for CB's book- won't be out 'til Xmas- and I ordered it over 8 months ago...

So give us a holler, won't you, when it's truly available ?

Can't wait to see you !

[Waves to lovely Anya...L'Shana tovah, sweetpea!]

Lucy said...

Hi Anya!

I saw your post about The Scent Trail, I am fascinated -- thank you for telling us all about it. I think you have a book of your sensory adventures in you -- your sense memoirs, that would be something!
I am very drawn to the Arctander (too expensive for now, maybe someday they will let us look online!) and the Tisserand as great reference works. As you know I am not all that techie but very into the lore and legend and personal experience aspects...

Lucy said...

Chaya -- I am very much looking forward to meeting you! I just saw the lineup for Saturday of the Sniffa -- it's amazing! But I am doing only Sunday downtown day this year (last two years I died after the Saturday, too much at once for me) but I am seriously reconsidering...although I know you can tell me all about it...

Qwendy said...

Hi Lucy, this is my first comment here, though I read your posts and enjoy them very much. I was very curious about the information that "olfactory sensations shut down while we are asleep" which I personally can dispute, having been more than once aroused from deep sleep by skunk smell for instance, and others too occasionally...........I wonder if I'm the only one? I'll be curious to hear about the book when you read it!

Lucy said...

Thanks Q, for your comment and for your interest!

I read about that part on the olfactory sensations shutting down while asleep in a review on Amazon, and I am also curious to read more about that aspect of her research. Perhaps after finding out more you might be moved to communicate with the author and tell her about your direct experiences. I am sure she would be very interseted.

I know she was involved in conducting some experiments, but I don't know how large the participating group was...


Aside from that, it seems she herself likes the smell of skunk, as a number of people do. Her take is that the affect of smells are based on association. I know I kind of like skunk myself when it is faint enough. Getting hit with it directly is a different story, I know, I have read there is a chemical in it that is far too strong and intense to be pleasant for anyone. I have never been been that close to the full force of it, so haven't had that kind of experience. Perhaps that is why I can kind of enjoy some aspects of it -- it has this sharp quality to it -- if it is faint enough.

Perhaps if you have been exposed to the full force of skunk, you are more aware of it and your internal warning system goes off if any of that scent comes near you, even while asleep or near sleep...

Qwendy said...

Yes, Lucy, I am definitely in the camp of those who don't love skunk smell, and there are quite a number of the adorable critters here in the hills of Hollywood, as well as others to set them off right in my backyard, under my bedroom window! I would imagine that would be enough to set anyone off, but my BF sleeps through the night and later tells me that he was aware of the smell, but it doesn't bug him as it does me!

I wonder are you aware of having scent related dreams? Only sometimes do I dream of perfume or scent related phenomena, how about you?

Lucy said...

Q -- my goodness, it sounds like you are being veritably tormented! What a thing to happen to someone who is so enamored of perfume!
Maybe it would be worth it to get a cat or a dog, I bet that would keep them away...

As to dreaming in scent, no I have never had that experience, that I am aware of. But now that you have put it in my mind, maybe I will, so thanks! It would be really quite something to have an enjoyable fragrance dream...or even dream some fragrance that is completely the invention of my own mind...

Anya said...

Hey, Wendy, bet you might not like coffee -- the mercaptan in both skunk and coffee are the uniting factor in those two elements!

Nice to see you posting again. So, how's the orange blossom tincturing coming?