The Temporal Structure of Olfactory Experience

Wilson, Keith A. (forthcoming). ‘The Temporal Structure of Olfactory Experience’. In Benjamin Young & Andreas Keller (eds.), Theoretical Perspectives on Smell, New York: Routledge, 2022/23.


Visual experience is often characterised as being essentially spatial, and auditory experience essentially temporal. But this contrast, which is based upon the temporal structure of the objects of sensory experience rather than the experiences to which they give rise, is somewhat superficial.

By carefully examining the various sources of temporality in the chemical senses we can more clearly identify the temporal profile of the resulting smell and taste (aka flavour) experiences. This in turn suggests that at least some of the objects of olfactory experience have significant temporal structure, including interactions between odorants and the body’s own sensory systems.

This can help to inform our understanding not only of the metaphysics of olfaction, but the temporal structure of sensory processing and experience in other sense-modalities, including vision and audition.

Invited chapter for Theoretical Perspectives on Smell, under contract with Routledge. I presented this paper at the Philosophy of Smell workshop, University of Nevada, Reno.