nature.com: Humans may not have as many smell receptor genes as dogs, but we do have much bigger brains — and we can use them to become almost as good at tracking scents as dogs can. All it takes is practice.
… although we have fewer odour receptors than other animals, we may compensate for this with an improved ability to analyse scent information with our large brains. We may just seem worse at tracking scents because we don’t practice this skill from birth, the way that dogs do … in a few training sets, humans can achieve something that other animals spend their life being trained to do.
But while our analytic ability may be superior, we still don’t have the same ability to pick up and identify specific scents, like those of a particular person, traces of drugs, or explosives. With the possible exception of the protagonist in Patrick Suskind’s Parfum.
7 Replies to “Sniff Like a Dog”
There’s a great riff on this in Richard Feynman’s autobiographical ramblings “Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman”. He decides to see whether he can become a human bloodhound, gets somebody to secretly handle a book from the library and then sniffs over all the bookshelves to see if he can spot which one. He does.
If you haven’t read the book, I very very heartily recommend it. It’s one of the funniest, most life-affirming and strangely beautiful books I’ve ever read.
I love the photo of the student with big hair sniffing through the grass like a dog, with the purple line showing the path she’s followed. For some reason that really makes me laugh.
Dylan, I think that “big hair” is actually a backpack :)
Makes me think of that scene in hannibal where the perfume experts are identifing the scent for Clarice..
I would think that these folks would probably do pretty well in that test:
Big hair, backpack, whatever. Stupid tiny BBC photos. ;)
I mean nature.com photos of course. What a day. Is it vacation yet?
Vacation? Huhn? Checking calendar… My goodness, you’re right. Everybody SCRAM!