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Dec 20, 2020

Vision is the best understood sensory domain. But smell is turning out to be wonderfully strange and even more complex than sight.

Dr Ann-Sophie Barwich joins me to explore ideas from her recent book Smellosophy. How is vomit related to parmesan cheese? Why do things smell so different depending on context? And what does smell teach us about the very nature of perception? 

We explore:

  • Why the ‘promiscuity’ of smell doesn’t make it merely subjective. Smells can have a multitude of qualities or notes depending on the context and depending on the individual. But this variability has a functional basis. 
  • The weird neural representation of smell. The patterns of neural activation underpinning smell don’t follow the mapping principles followed by other sensory modalities. 
  • Why philosophers shouldn’t ignore the neural ‘plumbing’ of sensory systems. Evolved brain mechanisms underly the nature and function of the perceptual experience  - so they have to inform a philosophical account of perception.  

Check out Dr Barwich’s book Smellosophy here,, 

her article in Aeon magazine here

and another great piece in Nautilus 


To get in touch with Ilan or join the conversation, you can find NOUS on Twitter @NSthepodcast or on email at