Tonight in The Scented Salon we have Robert E. Strauss, a retired lawyer from the United States of America.
Peace Robert, welcome and thank you for jointing us. I believe you have had a preternatural scent experience. Let’s hear your story.
Among the weird and unexplainable events in life are those occasions of telepathy between two or possibly more persons, often at spaced-apart locations. I experienced such, some fifty years ago, and I was unable to find a plausible explanation for the experience, which is possibly why it remains such a graphic memory to me. I believe the experience fits precisely the elements necessary for a true telepathic communication.
The experience occurred one evening in the low to mid 1960s. I was then employed at a research center of a major oil company. My wife, Dottie, and I lived in a house located about 15 miles from the research center. At that time, I also maintained an office in our hometown where I rented a room in a suite occupied by two other attorneys. The work day at the research center ended at 4:30 pm. and frequently I would drive from the research center to my second office, usually arriving there slightly before 5:00 pm. Upon arriving, I would check my mail and work on current matters, typically patent applications for clients, for 45 to 50 minutes, then drive to our house, a trip of approximately 10-15 minutes. Before relating the strange event that occurred this particular evening, I need to digress into some relevant matters.
Without variation, I never drink coffee during or after an evening meal at home and that was also true for Dottie. Coffee was consumed solely at breakfast. On some occasions, however, I have enjoyed a cup of coffee when dining out, particularly when, for whatever reason, there was a desire to extend the dining pleasure. Other than on those rare instances, I did not drink coffee in the evening and neither did Dottie.
The attorney’s suite was located on the second story of a garden type office building that fronted on the town’s main street. The building was U-shaped and fronted on the street with the two wings of the U enclosing a parking lot for the building. The offices in the building usually closed by 5:00 to 5:30 each evening and the parking lot was mostly deserted by 6:00 pm.
On this particular day, I left my office around 5:50 pm, locked the office door and went down the outer stairs to my car in the parking lot. I recall that it was a cool evening and I did not lower the driver’s door window when I got into the car. The car was not air conditioned and on warm evenings, I usually lowered the window when driving home. I closed the car door, started the car and backed out of the parking spot. As I turned towards the driveway to exit the lot, I experienced a sudden and intense aroma of freshly brewed coffee. The experience lasted only a few seconds (5-10 seconds) and then it vanished as suddenly as it occurred. The experience was as if a switch had been turned on and off. The aroma did not fade in and out, but was a steady, intense odor until it vanished.
It was such an intense sensory experience that I stopped the car. I knew there was no coffee in the car and seeking an explanation, I rolled down my car window, expecting to smell the coffee in the air outside of the car. To my bewilderment, the air was cool and crisp without any coffee aroma. Puzzled, I drove home, arriving there in approximately 10-15 minutes.
When I arrived home and entered the house, I smelled coffee. Dottie met me and I commented that is was most unusual that she had brewed coffee. She answered that after she had prepared dinner, she decided to surprise me with a fresh pot of coffee. She commented that the aroma of the coffee was so enticing when it was brewing, that she bent over the coffee pot and deeply inhaled the aroma. At that time, we had a stove-top percolator with an open spout that vented steam scented with coffee. “When was this?”, I asked and she answered “About 10 or 15 minutes ago.” I told her about my weird experience with the coffee aroma. We could not be more precise than that the time at which she inhaled the coffee vapors was closely proximate to the time I experienced the sudden and intense aroma of coffee. This was the only time in 43 years of marriage that such an event occurred.
Dottie had no problem with concluding that this event was simply mental telepathy. I, however, had my reservations; at that time in my life I lived a typical Newtonian clockwork life and it troubled me that I was unable to find an explanation for the event. With retirement I have taken the opportunity to read up on particle and quantum physics and the seemingly impossible has become probable.
Studies in the weird science of quantum physics have uncovered particle interactions such as entanglement and nonlocal actions. Scientists working in this science have theorized that consciousness in the quantum process affords a possible explanation for telepathy.
An internet search located some scientific attempts to test telepathy by grouping individuals in a common setting to create entanglements and then separating the group members and testing for nonlocal communication between the separated members;
see A Primary Quantum Model of Telepathy, Gas Shan, 2004;
Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed, Jim Al-Khalili, 2003.
Nothing very conclusive has been detected, but then, this can’t be expected to be resolved with the precision of a physical science as it involves the peculiarities of quantum physics and the human mind. See also Shadows Of The Mind, Roger Penrose, 1994, for an opinion that particle entanglement nonlocal communication can not convey information, which is probably true for a thought message, but not true for stimulation of a sensory receptor.
Even if quantum nonlocality (communication at a distance) can explain telepathy, the mechanism for such communication remains a mystery. How do entangled particles split and lodge in separate individuals? Dottie and I had coffee together at breakfast that morning, as usual. Could a pair of electrons been created in entanglement and each of the pair taken residence in each of our brains, olfactory receptors or nerve passages? If an entangled particle, e.g., electron, lodged in or at one of my olfactory receptors, could this have been sensing a coffee aroma without a coffee odorant molecule?
Robert, thank you for sharing your story with us. Maybe we will find some more people, perhaps twins, with a similar sensory experience?
As with all normal lifetime experiences, it lacks the controls to qualify as a significant scientific experiment. Nevertheless, it may suggest a promising field for investigation as the possibility of detecting scents without relying on molecular structure is an enticing possibility.
My background is that I have practiced law for over fifty years. I received a B.S. Chem Eng from the University of Wisconsin in 1953 and a J.D. from Georgetown in 1958. I was employed as a refinery engineer for a Venezuelan company for 2 years, then as an examiner in the U.S. Patent Office, then a patent attorney for Union Oil in California and later with a patent firm in Long Beach and Century City, California and finally in sole practice from which I retired in 1998.
I am interested in any comments.
The amazing thing to me is that this happened so long ago in what sounds like a very full life. Clearly this event has resonance in your life; a delightful puzzle. We will enjoy puzzling over this with you. You seem to think that this is an instance of smell which is independent of molecular structure. However it would be no surprise to me that scent molecules can vibrate through a wormhole.
As a scientist, I have no explanation. At first I thought he might have smelled a skunk, as that scent — when faint — smells like freshly roasted coffee. But he rolled down the window and didn’t smell it, which I think he should have done if it were a skunk.
As to quantum mechanics, the theories apply to atomic and sub-atomic particles. So far as I know, nothing prevents them from applying to phenomena at a larger scale, and various fiction writers like Michael Crichton have done that in stories. Whether they actually do apply to phenomena we can perceive with our noses or unaided eyes is an issue I am not qualified to judge.
Bottom line: I don’t know.
In the first issue of ODOU magazine Rose Gray articulates the various theories of smell including Vibration Theory, Odotype Theory, Lock and Key Theory and several other historical and current theories.
Vibrations, Quanta and Biology – by Susana Fernandez Huelga and Martin Plenio – this is a link to a complimentary PDF download which provides a unifying framework for ideas in quantum biology that various people have come up with concerning vibrations, electronic motion, spins and other quantum concepts.
Molecular Vibration – The Quantum Unicorn Accord
Molecular Vibration – The Quantum Coffee Accord (this post)
Molecular Vibration-Sensing Component in Human Olfaction Public Library of Science
Smell Theory – round-up by Rose Gray – see the first issue of ODOU magazine. In ODOU magazine Rose Gray articulates the various theories of smell including Vibration Theory, Odotype Theory, Lock and Key Theory and several other historical and current theories.
Luca Turin on Greece, Smell and the Future of Science
Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed, Jim Al-Khalili, 2003.
(Jim) Jameel Sadik Al-Khalili – is an Iraqi-born British theoretical physicist – Author Bio
Shadows Of The Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness,
Roger Penrose, 1994
The Emperor’s New Mind, Roger Penrose, 2002
The Secret of Scent by Luca Turin
BBC News – ‘Quantum smell’ idea gains ground
Paris Review Emily Gould reacts to Perfumes: The A-Z Guide
Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez – interview and love story by Simone from Mais Que Perfume.
The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr reviewed by Portia Turbo
Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez
Luca Turin – Update
Message in a Bottle – Luca Turin’s column on Style.com/Arabia
Message in a Bottle – Column I
Message in a Bottle – Column II
Message in a Bottle – Column III
Message in a Bottle – Column IV
Message in a Bottle – Column V
- RE: You guys know what quantum entanglement means? (lunaticoutpost.com)
- Quantum Experiment Shows How Time ‘Emerges’ from Entanglement (lunaticoutpost.com)
The Origin of Papyrus – Author’s notes
John Oehler at The Fragrant Man – Smell in Writing
Aphrodesia – Perfume Thriller – Book review on Olfactoria’s Travels
Papyrus – Techno-Thriller – Book review at Olfactoria’s Travels
John Oehler – Author interview
John Oehler – The Smell of Space
John Oehler – Fragrant Reading List