Ann-Sophie Barwich, "Smellosophy: What the Nose Tells the Mind" (Harvard UP, 2020)


In Smellosophy: What the Nose Tells the Mind (Harvard UP, 2020), cognitive scientist, empirical philosopher & historian of science, technology, and the senses A. S. Barwich asks a deceptively simple question: What does the nose tell the brain, and how does the brain understand it?

Barwich interviews experts in neuroscience, psychology, chemistry, and perfumery in an effort to understand the biological mechanics and myriad meanings of odors. She argues that it is time to stop recycling ideas based on the paradigm of vision for the olfactory system. Scents are often fickle and boundless in comparison with visual images, and they do not line up with well-defined neural regions. Although olfaction remains a puzzle, Barwich proposes that what we know suggests the brain acts not only like a map but also as a measuring device, one that senses and processes simple and complex odors.

In this interview, we discuss the history of olfaction as an art and a science, what smell can tell us about perception and our philosophy of mind, and why smell is an important sense today more than ever.

This episode is triply exciting, because it marks not just the release of a lively and brilliant new book, Smellosophy, which has, in the short time since its release last month, received a series of well-deserved sparking reviews in the popular and academic press, but also the first appearance of two new voices on the New Books Network: Joseph Fridman, and Dr. Ann-Sophie Barwich, both of whom are joining the network as hosts of New Books in Neuroscience. They join Dr. John Griffiths and Dr. Christopher Harris to round out the starting host lineup for the New Books in Neuroscience channel, which will be bringing you deep interviews with boundary-pushing authors in the neurosciences wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Ann-Sophie Barwich is an Assistant Professor at Indiana University Bloomington. She divides her brain-time between the Department of History & Philosophy of Science and the Cognitive Science Program. Her EEG/Olfactometry lab will open in early 2021, and her tenure as a host of a New Books in Neuroscience will begin in 2020. You can find her on Twitter, logically enough, at @smellosopher.

Joseph Fridman is a researcher, science communicator, media producer, and educational organizer. He lives in Boston with two ragdoll kittens and a climate scientist.You can follow him on Twitter @joseph_fridman, or reach him at his website,

Your Host

Joseph Fridman

View Profile