Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Paranormal smells

Rock faceThere's a fascinating article in this week's New Scientist concerning smell. It could be highly relevant to paranormal reports concerning smell. Apparently, humans have around 400 receptors for smell but everyone gets a slightly different set. In addition, many smells activate more than one receiptor. Taken together, these facts mean that how we sense smells varies significantly from person to person. It explains why people often argue about what they are smelling.

So, suppose you release a specific odour into a room containing a group of people and ask them all to report individually what they smell. Some may describe the smell in one particular way while others will say it is quite different. And a third group may not smell it at all! It all depends which set of smell receptors they have.

Now suppose that group of people was in a room in a haunted building. The variable response and the fact that some people don't detect it at all, could be taken as an indication of the paranormal at work.

Another reason an odour might sometimes be considered paranormal is if there is NO POSSIBLE source for it in the vicinity. But suppose such a report comes from a single witness. That person may have a set of receptors that mistake a common smell for one that has no source nearby. To reduce this problem, it will obviously help if there are more people present so they can compare notes.

It is clear from all this that deciding whether a smell has a paranormal origin or not is rather complicated. It really requires a good understanding of how normal odour perception works. And reports from single witnesses must clearly be treated with caution.

And the photo? Well, it's got a big nose ... (see 17 July post).

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