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Benjamin D. Young, Dissertation Abstract.pdf

Benjamin D. Young, Dissertation Abstract.pdf

Benjamin D. Young, Dissertation

1 Abstract: Dissertation Abstract Olfaction: Smelling the Content of Consciousness. Benjamin D. Young Scientific research on the sense of smell has blossomed over the past two decades, yet a comprehensive philosophical treatment of olfaction is nonexistent. My dissertation remedies this neglect by showing how the anatomical structure, functional circuitry, and sensory states of the olfactory system, call into question the reigning theories of cognition and consciousness. Specifically, olfaction provides new insight about the nature of object perception, the structure of our thoughts, consciousness, and qualitative character of our experiences. Chapter 1 – Introduction: Why should we study olfaction? We should study our sense of smell, because the olfactory system is phylogenetically and ontogenetically more basic than either vision or language. Ontogenetically the olfactory system is employed even by fetuses and influences such important aspect of daily life as the identification of kin, food preferences, social selection, and our choice of mates. Phylogenetically, olfaction predates all other modalities, thereby allowing validity and ease of extrapolation from animal models of olfaction to humans. Since the olfactory system develops before our visual or linguistic abilities and predates them, it provides a rich access point for studying our minds, while placing us on a continuum with other mammals. Our sense of smell is special because of the olfactory systemʼs unique anatomy, circuitry, and stimuli transduction. Anatomically, the olfactory system does not require an intervening relay in the thalamus. Information from the olfactory bulb above our nose projects directly to the cortex. Functionally, the lack of a thalamic connection makes the olfactory systemʼs circuitry different from vision and auditionʼs hierarchical structure. These differences become important for olfactory stimuli transduction, which occurs in a spatiotemporal manner that encodes odorants in a format unlike that found in vision or audition. Chapter 2 – We Smell Matter We smell the wet dog in the elevator, the cookies from the bakery down the block, and the smell of an imminent snowstorm. Since we admit of smelling things, the aim of the second chapter is to uncover the nature of the objects of our olfactory perceptions. What I shall argue is that we smell chemical objects i.e. we smell the chemical structure of molecular compounds or mixtures. We smell matter. The spatiotemporal and structural properties of odors can meet the criteria of being a perceptual object laid out by the visual model, of being a spatial temporal entity (Scholl and Pylyshyn, 1999; Matthen, 2005) or from the auditory model of being a mereologically complex entity (O'Callaghan, (2008, 2009), but these do not adequately

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