Olfactory imagery: is exactly what it smells like

  • Benjamin D. YoungEmail author


Mental Imagery, whereby we experience aspect of a perceptual scene or perceptual object in the absence of direct sensory stimulation is ubiquitous. Often the existence of mental imagery is demonstrated by asking one’s reader to volitionally generate a visual object, such as closing ones eyes and imagining an apple. However, mental imagery also arises in auditory, tactile, interoceptive, and olfactory cases. A number of influential philosophical theories have attempted to explain mental imagery in terms of belief-based forms of representation using the Dependence Thesis, dependence upon means of access, such as enactivism, or in terms of the similarity of content with perceptual processing. The focus of this paper concerns the later approach and in particular assessing if Nanay’s promissory note that his theory is applicable to modalities other than vision, such as smell, seems likely to be of theoretical tender. The thesis argued for in this paper is that olfactory imagery exists and is best accounted for by considering it as a type of perceptual processing with a unique representational format relative to the olfactory perceptual modality. The paper concludes by summarizing the applicability of Nanay’s theory of mental imagery for olfaction and suggests some further issues that arise when transitioning to multi-modal mental imagery.


Mental imagery Olfactory imagery Smell Perception Olfactory quality 



Previous versions of this paper have been presented at a workshop on olfactory imagery hosted by the Centre for Philosophical Psychology at the University of Antwerp, at Jonas Olofsson research group in the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University, and at Johan Lundström’s research group in the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet. I would like to thank all of the members of the audience on these occasions for their helpful questions and feedback. In particular, I would like to thank Barry Smith, Jonas Olofsson, Johan Lundström, Artin Arshamian, Maria Larsson, and Bence Nanay for their comments on this research project.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Department of PhilosophyUniversity of NevadaRenoUSA

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