The nose knows, says Lyall Watson, and in Jacobson's Organ, he sets out to prove that a humble, often overlooked set of nasal pits helps us decide whom to hit on, and whom to hit. First identified in 1811 by Danish anatomist Ludwig Levin Jacobson, the vomeronasal organ has been implicated in the reception of pheromones, those ephemeral chemical signals animals use to communicate nonverbally.
Watson organizes his thesis around the seven broad classes of smells identified by pioneering naturalist Carolus Linnaeus: floral, goatish, musky, foul, nauseating, spicy, and garlicky. In each section, Watson presents evidence of a surprising and unacknowledged role of smell and pheromones in human life. Is it possible that first impressions are the result of chemical signals? Watson thinks so, and also that pair-bonding, fistfights, love of offspring, and memories may have more to do with our humble nose than we think. In what is bound to be one of his more controversial stretches, Watson implicates nasal plastic surgery in postoperative mood changes:
Every time a surgeon slices away at a nasal septum in the name of fashion or vanity, both sides of Jacobson's organ are at risk of being damaged or even removed entirely, without thought for the consequences.... If you are considering cosmetic surgery on your nose, know that it could deprive you of the very things in life which having a new, cute, little button nose were supposed to improve.
Jacobson's Organ is full of Watson's pithy opinions and conjectures. Some are supported by science, some are not. But as we learn more about the role of the vomeronasal structures in human chemical communication, it becomes clear that a nosey approach is nothing to sneeze at. --Therese Littleton