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The White Noise of Smell 82

Frosty P. writes "Scientists have discovered a new smell, but you may have to go to a laboratory to experience it yourself. The smell is dubbed 'olfactory white,' because it is the nasal equivalent of white noise, researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Just as white noise is a mixture of many different sound frequencies and white light is a mixture of many different wavelengths, olfactory white is a mixture of many different smells. In a series of experiments, they exposed participants to dozens of equally mixed smells, and what they discovered is that our brains treat smells as a single unit, not as a mixture of compounds to break down, analyze and put back together again."
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The White Noise of Smell

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  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Saturday November 24, 2012 @07:37PM (#42084027)

    White noise is actually not perceptually neutral noise. It's mathematically random noise, with a flat power spectrum, meaning that for example the sound energy between 25-75 Hz is the same as that between 15000-15050 Hz. But because the human ear's perceptual loudness curve is not flat, the perceptual frequency distribution of white noise is not actually flat. To produce perceptually neutral noise, you need to apply the inverse of the human ear's perceptual loudness curve to white noise, which results in grey noise [].

    But beyond that, it seems they actually mean something different, more like "perceived as indistinct background noise". That's a wider range of things, and has to do with being able to resolve specific, distracting components, not necessarily with mathematical definitions of noise.

  • by Kargan ( 250092 ) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @08:26PM (#42084249) Homepage

    This is one of the differences between humans and animals, such as dogs, for instance. Dogs smell each component separately.

    This is why they make such good detectors for things like explosives or drugs -- they are still capable of pulling the "bomb" smell out of a complex mix of smells or when the smell is deliberately being masked, thanks in part to their highly adapted vomeronasal organ, also called the Jacobson's organ. []

  • Hey (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 24, 2012 @09:20PM (#42084451)

    Speaking as someone with a seriously sensitive sense of smell... THE WORLD FUCKING STINKS!

    Every person is walking around in a cloud of their own personal products. Aftershave, cologne, perfume, FUCK that god dammed axe shit, body lotions, makeups, hairsprays, nail polishes, air fresheners, smoke residue, food residue and sooooooo many other nasty smells because honestly most of you are not very dammed clean either. And you just try to cover that up.

    And i call bullshit on this article. I can pick out individual smells in those massive clouds. And i don't like it. The natural world smells ok. Very low key. But the human world? Jebus wept...

    Unfortunatly there doesn't seem to be an upside to this. Theres no job for human drug dog. Altho i suppose i won't ever accidentally eat bad food. Or die in a gas leak.

  • by cervesaebraciator ( 2352888 ) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @10:22PM (#42084687)

    Just trying to understand how others experience the world, so please forgive me if I ask an obtuse question. I watched a video [] the other day which had been described by some with Asperger's as a very accurate depiction of their experience of a meltdown. What I noticed from the video, above all, was the way things that would have blended together as white noise for me demanded constant attention, as much as I wanted to ignore them.

    So my question is this: if what I took from the video was in anyway accurate (if not, just let me know), does anything analogous happen with smells as well? I.e. as individual sights and sounds do not equalize to manageable or meaningful levels, do smells also each cry out for individual attention?

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury