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Have you ever smelled something in a dream?

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The human brain is often cited as one of the last great frontiers of scientific discovery, and never does this resonate more with me than right after I wake up from a particularly intense, and peculiar, dream. We spend almost half our lives asleep, but it seems like most of what happens in our heads during that time is a mystery; you can't record dreams, just as you can't photograph thoughts, and memory for such things -- mine especially, even just after waking -- is such a fickle thing.

We discussed here a few months ago the great importance that the olfactory sense has to emotion, and certain kinds of memory:

Smell is the sense most closely associated with emotional memory — just think about how evocative certain scents can be — and the one most closely tied to mental health and happiness. Positive and negative associations with certain smells are locked into our brains from an early age and stick with us the rest of our lives, and to lose that sense of smell is to, in effect, lose a part of our memory. It's the subtlest of the senses, but perhaps the most crucial in terms of our emotional connection to the world.

This seems like such a basic, caveman kind of question to be asking about the nature of ourselves -- but then, that's exactly why the brain still looms as an important frontier -- and it's this: if smells are so important to our emotional connection to the world, and dreams can be so very emotional, why aren't smells more prominent in dreams?

Think about it -- when the last time you remember having smelled something in a dream? (For me, the answer is ... never.) There are some accounts of "olfactory dreams," like this one from Freud's Interpretation of Dreams:

Eau de Cologne was held to his nostrils. He found himself in Cairo, in the shop of Johann Maria Farina. This was followed by fantastic adventures which he was not able to recall.

... or this one from a study conducted at Wellesley College in 1901:

I dreamed of looking off toward Milton and saying that beyond lay the ocean. I immediately got the keenest and most natural smell of wind from the flats and the delicious ocean odor. This gave me such intense pleasure, as it always does, that I awoke.

But strangely enough, sleep researchers contend that the other senses have a much greater impact on dreams -- the sound of a buzzer could easily induce a sleeper to dream of a buzzer -- and olfactory dreams are rare. (It makes me think of watching movies -- the closest thing to dreaming while awake -- and how dependent they are on the aural and visual, and how strange it would be if "smell-o-vision" were the norm.)

But our faithful readers always seem to have such interesting and diverse experiences when it comes to dreams, I'll bet there are some of you out there who've had smell dreams. Or who've had dreams influenced by smells that wafted over them while sleeping. If so, do tell!

Other dreamy posts:
How Do Your Memories Smell?
Waking Up Strange
Should You Wake a Sleepwalker?

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

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Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.


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