This study at Macquarie University in Australia seems to suggest that people who exhibit the traditional psychopathic personality traits also have an impaired sense of smell.
Since my partner Warren quite famously can’t smell very well, this has led to all sorts of jokes in this household. And it had me wondering, not for the first time, if I would actually recognise a psychopath if he or she bit me.
Because I find it surprisingly hard to process the idea that some people may just be born rotten.
I tend towards saying, with Neil Kramer, that “there are no bad guys, just disturbed guys“. I do find it difficult to accept the idea of ground-in evil. I’ve even flirted with the thought that perhaps the reason why I can’t identify psychopaths is because I am one. But that makes no real sense.If I were a psychopath I would be denying the reality of genetically callous people, not wondering why I can’t spot them.
Well, this impairment of olfactory senses in those who show a complete lack of empathy resonates with a sort of reason outside of the scientific explanation of some kind of damage to a specific part of the brain. It speaks of a tightly-throttled input of some essential data which makes us normal, feeling humans. The sense of smell, it is said (by Douglas Adams in one of his Dirk Gently novels, if I recall correctly) is one of the very last to leave us as our bodies disintegrate. It’s certainly a powerful stimulator of memory. It may be that we pick up clues which aid our feeling-with toward other beings through our noses (and our skin) which bypass the neo-cortex all together and act directly on some more essential part of our spirit. Thus not having access to this information could produce humans who have no idea of what it’s like to suffer as another.
And me? My sense of smell, even though I smoke fairly heavily, is pretty acute, thank you very much. Gives me that much less of an excuse and prods me to open my soul even wider to the myriad ways of being and creating, suffering and rising above which marks this space out as such a sacred place to inhabit at any time – and especially now.
Pic: Basil, a sacred smell to me