Friday, September 25, 2009

Psycho smell

Schizophrenics have a goatish smell, if Hannibal Lecter (via Thomas Harris in

Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal LecterImage via Wikipedia

The Silence of the Lambs) is to be believed. The claim that the sweat of schizophrenics is laced with trans-3-methyl-2 hexenoic acid always intrigued me and it is a pity that it turns out not to be true. This paper declares "there is no relationship between TMHA and schizophrenia". Which seems pretty definitive.

There are other studies which suggest that volatile organic compounds can be used to diagnose the condition. It turns out that some of them do have distinctive odours:Image via Wikipedia
  • trichlorofluoromethane - sweet smell
  • pentane - petrolish
  • dichloromethane - sweet smell
  • trichloroethene - sweet smell
  • benzene - sweet smell
  • 2,2-dimethylbutane - tarry, hospital smell
  • tetrachloroethene - sweet smell
I can see a pattern there. Though I guess there are caveats as schizophrenia, I think, is a broadly based condition and hard to definitively diagnose.

But that got me thinking about other odours and what they might reveal if they can be smelled. And it turns out that there are lots of them. Lots of conditions and diseases have very characteristic odours.

For instance, the smell of decomposing apples (again, a sweet smell) is associated with diabetic acidosis and that can strike diabetics if they have low blood sugar. Others too such as typhoid giving rise to a smell of brown bread or liver failure a "fetor hepaticus" (aka breath of the dead) which again is a sweet smell.

There are also research projects to develop electronic noses that can spot the characteristics odours of many diseases - particularly cancer. The thinking is that cancerous cells produce different waste products than normal cells and those can be detected - the key chemicals appear to be ethane, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

Fantastic. My current work in progress revolves around smell and having those to call on will help emphasise the strangeness of the central character. Ooh, not just smell either, when she kisses someone will she get a blast of what they are feeling.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Guides to the other side

19th Century mediums and psychics - stolen from The Fortean Times.
Kate, Leah and Margaret Fox
Allan Kardec
DD Home

The Fox SistersImage via Wikipedia

William Stainton Moses
Sir William Barrett
Nathaniel Talmadge
Robert Hare
James Mapes
Mrs Piper
Gladys Osborne Leonard
Frank Stockton
Hamlin Garland
Patience Worth
Frederick Bligh Bond
Charles S Mundell
Carl Wickland
Sir Hugh Lane
William Stead
Eusapia Palladino
Mina Crandon
Helen Duncan