You probably already know that the sense of smell is the sense most closely tied to memory. You catch a whiff of something that smells like it might have been the perfume your grandmother used to not so much dab as douse herself in, and all of a sudden you’re five years old again, playing trains in the basement while she watches The Price is Right upstairs.
But did you know why?
It turns out that as the human brain evolved (and yes, I know, the “human” brain wasn’t a human brain until we were humans and categorizing evolutionary changes can be arbitrary, just roll with me), more and more layers were added on to the pre-existing brain tissue. In other words, as we grew “smarter,” we had to keep growing more and more brain to support it. This makes sense. But as we grew bigger brains, the sensory inputs grew with them. Each sense developed its own area of the brain, and like a sulky teenager moving into the basement room, claimed that space as its own.
But not the sense of smell. Your sense of smell stayed put right where it was, in the primordial lizard brain that handles things like breathing and balance and whether to run from that weird sound in the bushes or attack it with an axe. This has kept the sense of smell in relatively close contact with other brain functions — especially base functions — which is, incidentally, why we still use smelling salts, of all things, to rouse an unconscious person: the sense of smell continues to function even while you’re asleep. (This is also why your significant other can sometimes wake you up in the middle of the night with their, uh, emissions. Not that I would know anything about that.)
I know all this courtesy of an article I read (or rather, that I am in the process of reading) on Wait But Why, which is my latest internet diversionary tactic. Tim Urban, the proprietor, does these deep dives (and I mean, drilling through the bottom of the Marianas Trench) on all kinds of topics, from science to futurism to philosophy, and it makes for fascinating reading.
Which is a great way to keep yourself away from a project that’s giving you the screaming willies — just pretend that, you know, everything is probably fine in that particular Scrivener file; certainly the problems in the draft aren’t compounding and spiraling out of control, or coalescing into an insuperable plot monster while you’re keeping your head down and trying to finish out the school year, probably I’m not losing all the momentum I spent the year spinning up, almost definitely my neglected characters aren’t concocting my comeuppance. Nope. Definitely none of those things are happening.
Of course, the problem with spending time on a site like Wait But Why is that it fills your head with all kinds of crazy ideas for other stories you’d like to write, which is also great for your current project, and not distracting from it in any way. You’re trying to puzzle through your current set of #writerproblems and you keep thinking about that awesome idea about two police officers sharing a brain, or a terrorist group weaponizing mosquitoes with Crispr technology, or or or…
You know, because you don’t already have two first drafts in desperate need of editing right now.
*tries not to think about the current edit*
*sets the computer on fire*
Two more days of school, y’all.
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.
2 thoughts on “A Whiff of Distraction”
Smell does have an incredible power to take us back into memories. I enjoyed reading your post – it was both informative and diversionary.
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Thanks so much for the information! I’m looking at all the posts on this prompt, and we are all talking about how funny it is we can hold on to the memory of a smell for so long…and now I know why:)
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