Image: @ wong yu liang/shutterstock

The best public engagement is underpinned by world-class research. In March, the Institute of Philosophy’s Centre for the Study of the Senses held a launch event for the national charity Fifth Sense that brought together leading researchers, clinicians, campaigners and loss-of-smell sufferers to raise awareness of the effect on people’s quality of life if they lose their sense of smell.

What we know as ‘taste’ is really taste, touch and smell;
you don’t have strawberry receptors on your tongue, for
example – that’s all smell.
– Professor Barry Smith, Institute of Philosophy

The Centre for the Study of the Senses often calls on its wide range of international partners to create events that bring the latest findings to the national subject communities and the wider public. Its launch event for Fifth Sense included an international workshop, open to all interested parties, that featured leading researchers on olfaction (the sense of smell) from philosophy, psychology and neuroscience.

Jay Gottfried (Chicago) discussed the close connection of sense of smell to memory and emotion; Juyan
Lim (Oregon) explained why odours reaching our nose from the mouth are experienced as tastes.
Ilona Croy, from Europe’s leading centre for the study of olfaction in Dresden, and Spanish philosopher, Marta Tafalla, spoke about the many roles smell plays in everyday life. Marta, who was born without a sense of smell, and unable to taste most flavours, spoke movingly about her search to find out what she was missing. Philosophers and psychologists from the universities of Glasgow, Oxford, Roehampton and Warwick were invited to comment on these talks.

The following day, the team from the Centre joined together with clinicians, medical researchers, campaigners and anosmia (loss of smell) sufferers from Fifth Sense to explore life without this sense. Patients spoke of the emotional changes the loss had caused, while others spoke of ways to work around the condition. Fifth Sense founder Duncan Boake and Professor Barry Smith (director of the Institute of Philosophy), spoke about the role of smell in creating the experience of flavour. Duncan revealed how his interest in food now focused on texture and the basic tastes of sweet and sour, salt and bitter, and he offered advice to anosmia sufferers to enhance their experience of eating.

The day’s event generated a lot of press attention and raised awareness of how important our
often-neglected sense of smell is, and researchers from the workshop spoke of the importance and
significance that patients’ testimonies gave to their research.

This blog post was originally published in the School of Advanced Study Annual Report and Review 2014 which is available from the School in hard copy or from the SAS website (click here). For more information check out the websites for the Centre for the Study of the Senses and Fifth Sense.

Image: © wong yu liang/Shutterstock.