What Is The Smell Of White?

Nov 26, 2012
Originally published on November 23, 2012 9:37 am

As the delicious smells of Thanksgiving in my house slowly fade from the air, I'm intrigued by a new discovery: Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel say they have created the scent of white.

Using the same principles behind the creation of white color (a blend of different wavelengths of light) and white noise (a blend of different tonal frequencies), the researchers came up with "olfactory white" (a blend of different fragrances that all smelled the same despite having no ingredients in common).

At first I found this a slippery concept to grasp. As a child when I heard names for the days of the week, I saw colors: Wednesday was a peacock fan of blues and greens, Saturday a light yellow-and-black pattern. But that's synathesia, when stimulation in one sense produces an involuntary response in another sense.

Here, we're talking instead about a single sensory ability, olfaction, but of a type we never knew existed; as this piece by Ed Yong at explains, "olfactory white" is such a blended creation it's experienced more like a unified perception than a specific odor.

So does that mean the smell of black would be ... an absence of any odor at all?

You can keep up with more of what Barbara is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape

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