Charting the Smelliverse

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


How can we study the phenomenal experience of smell? The challenges become vivid when we contrast smell with colour. In the case of colour, we have a rich, folk vocabulary for describing colour sensations; we have a robust knowledge of the physical stimulus that induces colour experience; and by probing subject response across the range of possible stimuli, we are able to develop quantitative models of the colour solid, a 3-dimensional geometrical representation of the space of all colour experiences. In contrast, we have no folk theory of smell, nor do we have a robust theory of the properties of the physical stimulus relevant to smell sensation. Quality Space Theory (QST) is the view that the phenomenal experience of some sensory modality may be modeled by a geometrical space, where each point represents a possible experience in that modality. I’ll survey some of the progress and challenges for applying QST to olfactory experience, with a special focus on the question of how many dimensions are needed to represent all possible smell experiences — some past answers: 2, 3, 10, 32, 400, 1000’s. I’ll end with some reflections on what these dimensions might mean, and why finding the dimensions of the smelliverse is important for advancing our understanding of the phenomenal experience of smell.
Period18 Mar 2021
Event titleCognitive Science Society
Event typeSeminar
LocationEdinburgh, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionLocal