Biological Theory

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 258–268 | Cite as

A Sense So Rare: Measuring Olfactory Experiences and Making a Case for a Process Perspective on Sensory Perception

  • Ann-Sophie BarwichEmail author
Long Article


Philosophical discussion about the reality of sensory perceptions has been hijacked by two tendencies. First, talk about perception has been largely centered on vision. Second, the realism question is traditionally approached by attaching objects or material structures to matching contents of sensory perceptions. These tendencies have resulted in an argumentative impasse between realists and anti-realists, discussing the reliability of means by which the supposed causal information transfer from object to perceiver takes place. Concerning the nature of sensory experiences and their capacity to provide access to reality, this article challenges the standard categories through which most arguments in this debate have been framed to date. Drawing on the underexplored case of olfaction, I first show how the details of the perception process determine the modalities of sensory experiences. I specifically examine the role of measurement and analyze its influence on the characterization of perceptions in olfaction. My aim is to argue for an understanding of perception through a process view, rather than one pertaining to objects and properties of objects.


Measurement Olfaction Realism Sensory perception Smell process 


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.KLIKlosterneuburgAustria

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