Memory is a weird thing. We know that we have memory, because we can remember stuff. Without memory, we wouldn’t be able to talk, use tools, make laws, or any of the other things that allow us to live in a society. Without society, we wouldn’t have Taco Bell.
Now you see how important memory is. Without it, we wouldn’t have Reaper Ranch Double Crunch tacos, and that’s just not a world I want to live in.The coolest thing about memory is that, even though it’s arguably the most important facet of our entire existence, nobody knows exactly how it works. We have hypotheses about where memories live, and we have guesses about how the brain uses them, but that’s about it. Our memories are little mysteries--and most interesting of all, some of them can even be completely fake!
Even with all of this talk about what we don’t know about memory, there is something that we do know: memory is inextricably linked to our senses. Memory is, after all, our way of recalling our previous experiences when interacting with the world. We wouldn’t be able to experience the world if we didn’t have senses. Ergo (that’s a fancy philosophical term, I’m told), senses are the first and most important part of creating memories.
Interestingly, not all senses impact memory the same way. For example, think about the last time you stubbed your toe. Maybe you were walking around your living room in the dark, trying to find the glass of water you left on the TV stand. Suddenly, the coffee table jumped out of nowhere and crushed your toe like a hydraulic press in those YouTube videos. Not fun. You probably remember a throbbing, searing pain, but you can’t really remember exactly what it felt like. Even more, when you get hurt, you rarely compare the pain to previous pain.
That’s because, out of all of your senses, touch is one of the senses least connected to memory.
But that doesn’t mean that all senses are equally disconnected from your memories. On the contrary, sometimes a sense can send you on an instant stroll down memory lane. And the sense that is most closely connected to your memory is smell.
That’s right, your sense of smell is the sense most closely linked to memory. Anyone who buys a real Christmas tree every year can attest to that fact. As soon as that piney scent begins wafting around your house, memories start flooding back about all of the other Christmases you’ve experienced. Another example is smelling the perfume of your ex. One whiff and you’ll be recalling all sorts of memories that might be sweet or not.