Friday, November 30, 2007

Memory cues

Have you ever had one of those moments where you're out...maybe at a bar...and all of a sudden you catch this scent. And it reminds you of something. Who knows what it is. But it's something. You know the smell. It brings back a flood of latent memories that you can't quite piece together. Each little nostalgic moment comes racing back in to your head, but disappears the instant it starts to have meaning in your mind.

Why is that?

How can something so common as a perfume spark such a complicated reaction in the human brain? It's blatantly familiar, but to the point that it is painfully hard to remember why.

I've heard people say that smell is the sense most closely linked with memory. You smell bread baking, it reminds you of your mom's house as a child. The smell of pine trees equals Christmas. Pumpkins smell like Halloween and Thanksgiving. The smell of fresh cut grass is such a powerful reminder that spring is here. And it is all taken for granted. In the winter time, when your sense of smell is generally limited to recognizing the crispness of the frosty air, you think snow.

But sounds, textures, even sights can't bring back such strong memories. Unfortunately, you have to take the good with the bad in this case. They don't bring back anything nearly as strong. But they also won't put you in a place where you have the memory on the tip of your tongue but you can't quite place it.

Needless to say, it happened tonight. And the worst part about it was I identified the culprit. I had to track it down in a crowded bar. But the owner was completely hush-hush as to the brand of the perfume. If you ask me, that's selfish. Now, I have the smell stuck in my nostrils and the frustration of not being able to place it in my mind all night.

I guess I can file this post under rants.

Losing sleep begins....


Stephanie said...

Now I'm really not going to tell you what it is :)

Liz said...

FYI - The other senses send their information through the thalamus before they get to the part of the brain that interprets them. Smell doesn't. It goes directly to the limbic system, which is responsible for a lot of emotion and memory.

Maybe I am learning something in PT school:)