Past Event

The Human Sense of Smell - Seminars in Society and Neuroscience

April 13, 2017
4:15 PM - 7:00 PM
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Italian Academy, Columbia University, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue, New York
Historical illustration of a scale entitled "The Gamut of Odours"

The event recording is available via YouTube. 

Welcoming Remarks: David Freedberg, Pierre Matisse Professor of the History of Art and Director of the Italian Academy, Columbia University; and Pamela Smith, Seth Low Professor of History and Chair, Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University

Speaker: Barry C. Smith, Director of the Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London
Respondent: Clare Batty, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Kentucky

Speaker: Donald Wilson, Professor at the Departments of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Physiology, NYU School of Medicine
Respondent: Avery Gilbert, Smell Scientist, Entrepreneur, and Author

Speaker: Christophe Laudamiel, Master Perfumer, Scent Composer, Lecturer, Writer, and Chemist Champion

Moderator: Ann-Sophie Barwich, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University

There are many myths about the human sense of smell. Most persistent are the views that our olfactory abilities are underdeveloped, declining, and lacking cognitive significance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Historically, the spice trade and the ongoing hunt for new flavors have shaped our modern socio-economic landscape. Today, 28 billion dollars are generated annually with fragrance products in the US alone (ranging from perfumes to scented trash bags). Many of these are deeply entwined with hygiene products responsible for improvements in public health. And over the past thirty years, neuroscientific interest in odor perception has been on a steady rise. Central to this development is the dominant role of smell in cross-modal processes of flavor perception. The crucial question here remains unresolved, however: How does our brain make sense of scents and flavors? To explore the human sense of smell in its perceptual, neural, and cultural dimensions, the panel brings together cross-disciplinary perspectives from neuroscience, philosophy, and perfumery.

Free and open to the public. Reception to follow.

This event is co-sponsored by The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America and the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience program as part of the Seminars in Society and Neuroscience series.

Image source: The art of perfumery: and the methods of obtaining odours of plants (1857); Piesse, G. W. Septimus.