Close your eyes for a second and try to visualize a pizza. Pretty easy right? Now, forget what the pizza looks like, try and imagine the smell of the pizza. Errr....not so easy.....
It's actually a lot easier to "see" something in your mind than "smell" it. But what does that even mean, to "see" or "smell" in your mind. When you think about how you visualize things, it seems that the majority of the image that is created in your mind is an actual picture and nothing more. You can see the object before you, almost as if it is just floating there, before you, for you to look at as long as you like. The colors are there, it might be moving, or some other object may be interacting with it, but "smell" isn"t usually part of that initial image. It"s actually a little bit more of a challenge to conjure up the imagination of the "smell" of an image. Sure, if I asked you to imagine the "smell" of cigarette smoke (or something very pugnant), for example, you might say "yes, I can imagine that no problem." But compare that imagined smell to the true experience of smelling cigarette smoke, and then compare that to how a real image of a pizza differs in sensation from an imagined one. The "real image" to "imagined image" experiences are very close to each other, but "real smell" and "imagined smell" experiences seem to be further apart. If you scored real experiences as a 10 (10 being "very real"), I"d say an image in the mind of an object would score a 7 or so in terms of realness. While the imagined smell of an object, I"d probably rate a 4 or 3. Imagined smells just don"t feel very real. Why is that?
Now, there are people who experience synesthesia with smells. For example, hearing certain words, it can conjure up a smell that they believe to be real. But that"s obviously rare. I think that humans in general aren"t that great at imagining smells. Is that because our memory of smells aren"t that great? But how can that be? Remember the time you got a whiff of something and it took you back to a time when you were like three years old? That happened to me recently as I came across a lotion at a store. I took a smell of it just out of curiosity and it smelled exactly like the balm that was given to me after I got my tattoo in New Zealand 6 years ago. Not only did I surprise myself that I was able to pinpoint the exact smell in an instant, I was also taken back 6 years and a plethora of memories of that time were unleashed. Some that I hadn"t even thought about for ages. It was almost like this smell had a whole slew of memories locked in my brain, attached to it. We"ve all experienced things like this. So it can"t be that our memory of smell is bad, because we can have extremely intense memories attached to certain smells....but try this: go to the bathroom and wash your hands with soap. Smell the soap. Now wait 30 minutes and try and imagine the smell. It will be next to impossible. You may be able to describe how it smelt, but with very general words (floral, sweet, soapy)...bottom line, its not easy. Memory of smell is a very strange arena.
But, then you have Perfumers (people who are trained in the art of scent and who design and create perfumes). Perfumers are sometimes called "Noses" as they are basically capable (after a lot of training in perfumery schools) of smelling a unique perfume scent and breaking it down into all of its components. They can imagine a scent, much like an artist can visualize what he intends to paint, and then create it. Their memory of smell and their imagery for smell are an attained skill.
So, is smell memorization and imagery trainable? Apparently so. What"s more, there is even a memory athlete (Taras Bulgya - I think he"s from Romania?) who memorizes entirely by scent. WHAAAA? Sounds crazy right? To look at a set of numbers and get a hint of some scent, is insane. But, he does it, and it works. He"s told me that it"s all trained. Unfortunately, his scores aren"t very impressive, but the fact that he has trained his olfactory imagery to a point where he can create olfactory imagery in his mind, is astonishing. I"m not saying that I"ll be adding a technique like that anytime soon to my repertoire, but it"s definitely interesting to think about.
I"m also curious as to what my readers think about their own olfactory imagery. How easy/difficult is it for you to imagine smells?