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Public Record of a Private Sensation

March 21, 2020

There are some words you encounter in life that never leave you. Some of them haunt like a touchstone when you write or speak. Petrichor seems one of those in my vocabulary. The word is used to describe the delicate scent of the first rain after a long dry summer. Scientists would say it is the oil that earth releases in the air when humidity strikes the soil before it starts pouring. I’m not sure if I knew the word when I started to recognize the experience of Petrichor. But the sudden damp smell would always be one good thing about the April rains. It was always preceded by a storm accompanied by occasional thunder. A section of Cultural Anthropologists suggest that human beings have inherited a fondness for the smell from their ancestors who would pray for the rains to sustain crops in sedentary civilizations. There are molecular explanations of the smell. But when it comes to the talk of the sensation, it is difficult to delineate the fascination. Cognitive Scientists call it ‘qualia'. The individual instances of the subjective conscious experience associated with the smell are the qualia or the non-representational state of mind. Petrichor, then anthropologically, is a sensation that has been passed on to our perceptual aptitude in the course of generation; hence, ‘public’ in nature. Experientially, it is always an individual or ‘private’ as an object of perception

Srotaswini Bhowmick, Assistant Professor, Unitedworld School of Liberal Arts and Mass Communication (USLM)

Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.

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