Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/707

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ODORS AND THE SENSE OF SMELL.

ground of a few square millimetres is enough to enable the dog to follow the scent. In birds, the sense of smell appears to be little developed; in mollusks and insects the smelling apparatus has been located in the antennæ. Below the group of worms, no olfactory reactions have been, so far as I know, definitely established.

The mechanism of the olfactory apparatus is, as a whole, simpler than that of sight and hearing; but the sensation is subordinated to many individual anatomical peculiarities. As much can be said of touch and taste, which require contact of the excitant, while sight and hearing merely register the vibrations transmitted by a medium. It is easy to conceive how the condition of the membranes, the form of the nasal passages, etc., may affect the sensation.

A distinction is made in medicine between respiratory anosmias which depend on the formation of the organs and the condition of the connective tissues, and essential anosmias which result from atrophy of the nerves. Anosmias are frequent; some are congenital, many are senile and temporary, and connected with traumatisms, hemianesthesia, aphasia, and hemiplegia. We can not expect to find as concordant reactions for the smell as for the sense of color or the sense of form. It is nevertheless a matter of interest to investigate, on as good subjects as we can get, the influence of different odors on sensibility; or, in other words, to determine the weight of odorous vapor which it is necessary to breathe and accumulate in the nasal f ossse to make a perfume perceptible. That is the purpose of olfactometers. The olfactometer gives, besides this, the intensity of a perfume. The larger the perceptible minimum of a perfume, the less intense the perfume is, and it is this intensity which determines the price of a perfume, the delicacy of its odor being the same.

The olfactory sense is followed by effects of different kinds of intensity from those of sight and hearing, and may be accompanied by a kind of poisoning. The old medical books are full of stories of it. There are those of a girl killed by the exhalations of violets; of a woman seized with a violent headache from sleeping on a bed of roses; and of a girl who lost her voice by smelling of a bouquet. Ancient medicine attributed curative properties to perfumes, particularly to those of the rose, musk, and benzoin. The intensity of the effects of perfumes makes a rapid succession of sensations almost impossible; for consecutive odors cause a rapid anæsthesia of the sense; on the other hand, if the times separating two successive sensations are too long, it becomes impossible to combine them, and the anticipated effect is disturbed by strange feelings. In short, smell is rather the complement of other excitations than an artistic excitation like