Part 4: The Scent of Fear ~ Musings on Fear and Olfaction

“The plague was nothing; fear of the plague was much more formidable.”

~ Henri Poincaré, French mathematician and theoretical physicist (1854-1912)

Part 4 of the Series, “Of Monkeys, Mice and Men: From Natural Bodies to Digitized Bots”

Groundhog Day has passed, and regardless of whether or not “Punxsutawney Phil” saw his shadow, I am confronting and integrating shadows of myself in 2020 — a year in which a spell of the highest magnitude in modern history was cast upon global society. In terms of shadow work (and to echo Steve K’s recent spiritually-stirring POM post illuminating wetiko), it seems we have all been called to reconcile the “dark side” in others (the “collective shadow”), and even more crucially, within ourselves. Specifically, I have been reflecting on how I may be inadvertently conveying fear via my body language, my writing, and potentially even unconsciously through chemosignaling, discussed below (see also here and here). Amidst this self-reflection, my locale has been inundated with snow for weeks, and shoveling trails for my short-legged goats has taken a physical toll. Yet, most mornings I wake up to the birds sounding the call of spring. Their signaling serves as a message that the days are getting lighter, and life will look brighter very soon . . .

Speaking of signaling, the third installment in my series received mixed response. While it was a stretch in various regards, I hope that readers can absorb nuggets of information embedded therein, even if not accepting my hypothetical premise that a synthetic protein (encapsulated within a bio-nanotechnology vector termed a “vaccine”) can be horizontally transferred from person-to-person (which can translate as a “positive” via an RT-PCR amplification process), resulting in potentially iatrogenically-induced illness. 

That said, I would like to revisit the concept of contagion, coupled with the phenomenon of chemosignaling (a confirmed form of horizontal transfer in humans). One primary inspiration for my reflection came from a regular commenter at POM — Oregon Matt. Recently, he e-mailed me an excerpt from an exchange he had with Jim West (investigative scientific researcher of, where Jim stated as follows:

“I was told by a biologist via email that hormones have all the abilities of the regular nervous system (memory and ability to be affected by other hormones and systems etc, and to affect these other systems) — but hormones are slower and often mobile.”

Jim added his personal feedback:

They can be transmitted to other persons like ‘germs’ via coughing breathing talking touching. Which may be another reason why Big Bro wants us to be germphobes. And to view touch as a sin. Big Bro is jealous of any lateral communication. Hormones are another means of lateral communication . . . So there is an infectious element here, but ancient and with beneficial potential, related to ‘suggestion’ but with more detail. This could explain why people are innately repulsed by sick people and even lower classes like the ‘untouchables’ . . . 

So hormones could be suggesting solutions to illnesses or environmental hazards. Yawning is a purely psychological suggestion, but hormones give the details. Both modes are probably at work to give the impression of suggestion suggesting specific illness symptoms as remediation behavior or defense behavior when confronting environmental hazards. It is known that cells can change their behavior and physical structure on the fly, and this is claimed to be due to dynamic genetic transfer; bacteria do that. However, this effect might be describing hormonal material, which perhaps is what nucleic acid is in a sense.” (Re-printed herein with Jim’s consent, and his link for further clarification).

There is much that can be unpacked in Jim’s insightful passage, including the role of nucleic acids in signal transmission. Nucleic acids are involved in innate immune sensing, and they play a significant role in signal transduction (biochemical processing involving predefined signaling pathways to enable overall function in living organisms). Their function could explain why they have been applied to nanotechnology-based biosensors.

Foremost, I would like to address the concept of lateral communication — an essentially invisible biological-based communication within a species. This can be termed intraspecies communication. There is substantial evidence that a cooperative, communal alliance can be shared among trees of the same species, which has been termed the ‘wood-wide web.’ As asserted in a March 2018 Smithsonian Magazine article, “Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony.”  The in-depth study of insects has contributed to more evidence of intraspecies communication, particularly chemical communication via signal-carrying chemicals called pheromones — which are similar to hormones, but operate outside the body, to induce activity in other individuals within a species. 

Pheromones were defined in 1959, by P. Carlson and M. Lüscher: “airborne chemical signals released by an individual into the environment and affecting the physiology and behavior of other members of the same species.” These species-specific messenger substances, responsible for subliminal cueing, are well-documented in mammals, and when discussed in the context of the human species are most often applied to sexual desire dynamics. A biologist well known for this work is Winnifred Cutler, Ph.D. If readers are interested in her intriguing research (which has been met with skepticism and mockery, due to the human sexuality overtones), I encourage listening to this engaging December 2018 conversation she had with holistic gynecologist, Dr. Christiane Northrup, titled “Love is in the Air.” 

For the purpose of my essay, I am focusing on my intuitive antithesis to Dr. Cutler’s work, which I call, “Fear is in the Air.” I have sensed much fear in the air in the past year — amidst this massive and oppressive psychological operation — what I have also previously termed virions of fear (or “fearions”). Now, I have to ask, can we unconsciously smell the fear, due to pheromones? 

Some early research on the olfactory communication of emotions in humans was published in January 2001 by Denise Chen and Jeanette Haviland-Jones. A prominent researcher currently studying olfactory perception in determining behavior among humans, most notably fear and anxiety, is Jasper de Groot. His studies have confirmed that, like animals, humans have the capacity to emit alarm pheromones as a method of social communication, in order to establish emotional synchrony. Who knew that we literally inhale these signals from those around us, outside of our conscious awareness? For further information on his exploration of fear chemosignaling and emotional contagion, read his October 2017 study, in which he collaborated with Monique A M Smeets (both of Utrecht University, The Netherlands). Interestingly, beginning in 2020, there has been a focus on research involving electrochemical sensing of stress being applied to wearable biosensor devices, that purportedly aims to detect stress biomarkers in human biofluids.

Along the lines of alarm pheromones as an adaptive, social form of danger communication — involving the use of olfactory messages that presumably occur in all animals — these hidden stimuli have been of keen interest to the military. In this January 18, 2008 WIRED magazine article, “Pentagon Explores ‘Human Fear’ Chemicals; Scare-Sensors, ‘Contagious’ Stress in the Works?”, the authors express the following:

“Now, the US Army is trying to track down and harness people’s smell of fear. The military has backed a [DARPA-funded] study on the Identification and Isolation of Human Alarm Pheromones. . .

In a lecture given at a 2007 Congress on Stress, the researchers hint at what their study found:

Our findings indicate that there may be a hidden biological component to human social dynamics, in which emotional stress is, quite literally, ‘contagious.’ 

Some have suggested that the human alarm pheromone could lead to chemical fear-sensors. The project Integrated System for Emotional State Recognition for the Enhancement of Human Performance and Detection of Criminal Intent . . . specifically mentions the possibility of monitoring pheromone levels:

Such systems could be used to . . . detect the sinister intent of individuals and prompt pre-emptive interdictions. These systems could unobtrusively monitor individuals within military operational environments or crowded civilian settings by relying on passive detection.”

The 2008 WIRED article concluded:

“But what about offensive use? Pheromones are effective in minute quantities, so a wide area can be blanketed with just a few liters. Given sufficient concentration, would everyone exposed start suffering from an unidentifiable dread? The contagious aspect means that those affected would start churning out fear pheromone as well (emphasis added).

On its own, the alarm pheromone probably would not do much. But given an external trigger . . . it could influence people to start stampeding like spooked cattle . . . Whatever is going on, this research is likely to uncover some novel and powerful ways of manipulating human behavior (emphasis added).”

There is emerging research in the area of interpersonal chemosignaling as a cue of sickness — ostensibly as an adaptive “behavioral immune response” in humans to innately avoid physical contact of non-healthy individuals. Essentially, experiments utilizing “induced” sickness of humans resulted in the perception of sick individuals smelling more aversive than when they were healthy (see Endnote). Suffice to say, these experiments suggest that disease stinks. I don’t mean for this to sound flippant. In fact, I find this research to be highly curious in light of what we have witnessed in the past year, because if our natural instinct, based on chemosignaling cues, is to separate ourselves from others who are sick (irrespective of the cause), then this innately programmed response should be permitted to operate. Instead, we have been forced un-naturally to distance from everyone — whether they are truly sick or not. Could this have a long-term deleterious effect on instinctual human behavioral interaction? Further, is it possible that mask-wearing (covering the mouth and nose) interferes with our innate interpersonal perception, partially based on olfactory cues? Could this potentially harmful intervention lead to short-term impairment, or worse, long-term atrophy of our chemosensory capabilities?

Continuing on the topic of instinct and social interaction, can you think of a human exchange that has seemingly become extinct, and may be of particular interest in this current psychological operation? When is the last time you shook hands with a neighbor, friend, or stranger? If you have engaged in this natural interaction in the past 10 months, then I would consider you very fortunate, as that indicates you are still engaged in social chemosignaling.

Curiously, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), which aims to “probe today’s technology limits and ultimately lead to future technologies with DoD relevance” (see here the plethora of technologies such as digital twinning, nanophotonics, nanoenergetics, genomics, membrane-based electronics, and advanced bioprogrammable nanomaterials), has an internal program called “Trust and Influence.” One of the main reported goals of this program is to “advance the science of social influence within the context of national security.” In 2015, AFOSR’s Trust and Influence Program co-funded Noam Sobel and his research team in the Department of Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science to explore human handshaking and the unconscious human response to examine another’s odor. Essentially, the researchers confirmed their initial hypothesis, that when we shake hands with a stranger, we inadvertently smell the stranger’s chemical signals. Researchers concluded that this instinctual and subliminal detection mechanism is not only meaningful and adaptive in humans, but that people will actively seek out this odor signal transfer to convey social information. This brief video (see below) demonstrates a portion of their 2015 study, revealing how individuals unconsciously explore the scent of others with whom they have engaged in an overt physical greeting.

Incidentally, it was reported on November 11, 2020, that Sobel and his neurobiology team have created a molecular “smell map” that could “pave the way for smellovision TVs, scented digital photos that have a whiff of vacation, and technology that can ‘print’ any odor.” According to Sobel, when discussing applications to digitize odors, “We have identified the physical, chemical features of smells that are meaningful for human perception. Once we have a device that will measure the properties we have identified, we can digitize the information using codes and algorithms we have already established . . . Having done this, we can reproduce and transmit it, like we transmit vision and sound on a range of devices today . . . The molecules that are needed already exist and are widely available . . . From this point, what we need is one machine that will be like the microphone and one that will be like the speaker . . . We have rudimentary versions of each, and the step just completed means we have the code that we’ll use to connect them.” The concept of digital smell technology was already being discussed openly in mainstream news in 2018, and The Monell Center in Philadelphia, PA, is actively engaged in research to digitize chemosensory data. The notion of a mixed, augmented reality, integrating smell technology, is no longer in the sci-fi realm. 

One related phenomenon to subliminal social signaling is mass sociogenic illness, which is defined as “the rapid spread of illness signs and symptoms affecting members of a cohesive group, originating from a nervous system disturbance . . . whereby physical complaints that are exhibited unconsciously have no corresponding organic aetiology.” It can also be termed epidemic hysteria. One purported example (in the above linked 2005 CMAJ article) includes an anecdote asserting that during the 1990 Gulf War, the first missile attack on Israel by Iraq was widely feared to contain chemical weapons. While the fears were reportedly unfounded, “about 40% of civilians in the immediate vicinity of the attack reported breathing problems.” On this topic — in this erudite and pertinent article titled “Fear is the Sickness” — holistic psychiatrist, Dr. Kelly Brogan, referenced a 2007 study, demonstrating that illness was fear-induced in women who were convinced that they were inhaling “contaminated air” when they saw other study participants “get sick” from it (an inert placebo), despite the fact that there was nothing harmful in the air. 

In 2008, researchers funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (and awarded to the National Center for Study of Preparedness and Critical Event Response at the Johns Hopkins University) studied the phenomenon of the coupling dynamics of fear and disease contagion. Significantly, Joshua Epstein and his colleagues imagined two contagion processes: one of disease proper, and one of fear about the said disease. They concluded from their simulation study that the fear epidemic propagated faster than the “bug” epidemic. They reasoned that “there are more pathways by which to contract fear than there are to contract bug.” The researchers asserted, “The point is that we are modeling a behavior-inducing transmissible signal distinct from the pathogen itself. For expository purposes, ‘fear’ will do.” For additional historical context seeking the understanding of emotional contagion, see this academic analysis from the University of Hawaii. Interestingly, the notions of fear contagion and alarm pheromones made their way into mainstream news early on in the COVID event (which included a link to this military-funded study).  

So . . . what if illness does not have to be transmitted physically via droplets of snot and mucus? Rather, could our secretions be harboring pheromones that are seemingly “infectious?” What if viruses are not airborne, but instead, pheromones are the airborne compounds enabling the transfer of messaging that “fear is in the air?” Could a subliminal message of “illness” (or perception thereof) be transmitted and received via odor signals? Asked in another way: who needs an emergency, when all the hidden hand needs is a perception of an emergency, or the unconscious odor of an emergency? Are we secretly super sniffers — like our animal companions

Whether or not we have been manipulated subliminally over the past year to feel (or smell, or ironically, NOT smell) a sense of alarm and emergency, we may need to examine how each of us emits signals of fear (even if not fear of a virus, but rather, fear of tyranny or otherwise) in our local environment, including our respective households and communities. To counterbalance the spread of fearions, I suggest we emit contagious signals of love, fortitude, and authentic empathy in resonance with the sacredness of Nature — a concept I continue to share here at POM. Of course, this is easier said than done (in my case, as well). One method that helps me to connect with the sacred is listening to music that speaks to me on a level that transcends this physicality. I feel that this particular piece, “Aloha Ke Akua” (see below) by one of my favorite artists, Nahko Bear, embodies this humble sanctity, and rekindles a remembrance deep inside me. Here are the lyrics to the song.

Another connection to the sacred can be immersing ourselves in nature. It’s been suggested by researchers that breathing in the pheromones of the forest (“forest bathing”) can reduce stress and promote health.

I conclude with this quote from Margaret Bates, “Between a human and a tree is the breath. We are each other’s air.”

It is up to each of us to exalt and preserve Life, and to resolutely reject the pathogenic scent of manufactured fear being elicited, with the goal of AI and bio-nanotechnology invasion into our natural — and imperfectly perfect — expression of living. 


Endnote: This 2014 study (abstract only) investigated the alteration of body odor in mice (using biosensors) following both induced illness and immunization. The researchers (in collaboration with the Monell Chemical Senses Center) concluded that immunization in mice does, in fact, alter body odor. I wonder if this holds true for humans?


Identification and Isolation of Human Alarm Pheromones,” April 2006 DARPA-funded study led by Lilianne R Mujica-Parodi, Ph.D. and Helmut H. Strey, Ph.D. (both of Stony Brook University) referenced in the 2008 WIRED article

Acute psychological stress induces short-term variable immune response,” Brain Behavior and Immunity October 2015, Wayne Y. Ensign from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR, now called NAVWAR, Naval Information Warfare Systems Command) collaborated in the research

An Odor is Not Worth a Thousand Words: From Multidimensional Odors to Unidimensional Odor Objects,” by Yaara Yeshurun and Noam Sobel, The Annual Review of Psychology, October 19, 2009

Chemosensory Cues to Conspecific Emotional Stress Activate Amygdala in Humans,” PLOS ONE, July 29, 2009, Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi et al. 

The scent of fear,” Prof. Karl Grammar et al.

The scent of emotions: A systematic review of human intra- and interspecific chemical communication of emotions,Brain and Behavior, March 2020

The History of Pheromones,” Hankering for History 

Three steroid-binding globulins, their localization in the brain and nose, and what they might be doing there,” Steroids, February 2019

Vomeronasal organ and human pheromones,” European Annals of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Diseases, September 2011

Jacobson’s Organ and the Sixth Sense,ThoughtCo., Updated August 6, 2018

Human Pheromones: What’s Purported, What’s Supported,” A Sense of Smell Institute White Paper, Charles J. Wysocki and George Preti

The Power of the Environment,” March 14, 2018, Monell Chemical Senses Center, 2018 Spring Colloquium (see page 16)

Monell: Making Sense of the World, Monell Center, 2019-2020 Annual Report“The COVID-19 pandemic is a once in one-hundred-year worldwide crisis. As chemosensory researchers, we have come to think of 2020 as ‘The Year of Smell and Taste.’ In the early days of the pandemic, as healthcare staff worked heroically beyond their limits caring for the sick, as society retreated into the safety of quarantine, and as the economy shut down, we began to hear evidence of smell and taste loss in patients with COVID-19. Intrigued, energized, and informed by unique expertise backed by decades of ground-breaking discoveries, we quickly mobilized with our colleagues to understand the connection between this novel coronavirus and loss of smell and taste.”

Connecting Odor to COVID-19,” The Monell Center, by Maia Monell, September 29, 2020, Bruce Kimball, Ph.D: “After a few years of research, it becomes abundantly obvious that every health perturbation altered body odors. From this, I became interested in the mechanisms behind these alterations . . .” 

What Can Covid-19 Teach Us About the Mysteries of Smell?The New York Times Magazine, Updated January 31, 2021, by Brooke Jarvis, “The virus’s strangest symptom has opened new doors to understanding our most neglected sense.”

George Preti, 75, Dies; Studied Bodily Odors as Biological Clues,The New York Times, April 1, 2020, “In his ‘bizarre niche’ of science, he sought to weaponize odors as a means to sniff out disease…”

Hand Sniffing After Hand Shaking is a Thing,” How Stuff Works, by John Donovan

The U.S. Military Once Proposed a Gay Bomb,” Gizmodo, October 11, 2013

14 thoughts on “Part 4: The Scent of Fear ~ Musings on Fear and Olfaction

  1. Another fascinating post, Stephers. Pretty complex when looking at it scientifically/biologically, but makes perfect sense from an instinctual standpoint. There is much study on trees/pheromones because of the huge number of lodgepole pine and whitebark pine deaths due to prolonged drought and beetle infestations that gain advantage as trees loose vigor from lack of moisture and excessive heat.
    Stay hydrated, people. Life = water.

    Again, thank you for your work, synthesis of broad-range info, and the analysis that’s so uniquely yours. Cheers to the awesome power of individuality and smallness! Driving the “group-thinkers” wild, and crazy. I’m loving it.

    BTW, I tried to send a friend Jim’s latest article @ Facebook. They’re not allowing it – no way Jose – “community standards” don’t you know.


  2. It’s amazing how disconnected we are from the natural processes you describe. Man-made society keeps us so trapped in our heads–our primitive brains and/or our pretentious intellects–that we are all but completely cut off from the aspect of consciousness that literally connects us to other realms.

    Though I like to think I’m creative and smart, my most inspired moments have come when I was engaged with other people at an intellectual, emotional and (I now understand, after reading your article) chemical level. One of my problems has been that it’s difficult to find groups of people who I can connect to without getting caught up in some kind of intellectualized agenda. Our minds have been conditioned to kill our spirits.


    1. Steve, thanks for the link to Chiron Last. His video seemed like an audio version of the philosophical pamphlets authors used to distribute in the sixteenth century or something–there’s an old-fashioned austerity about it that appeals to me.

      And it fits my philosophical mood at the moment.

      In a college Metaphysics class, when we were talking about non-dualism, I marveled aloud at the way birds build nests. When a human gathers materials like twigs and leaves and transports them someplace for assembly, he has a mental picture of what he’s going to do with them; he visualizes the thing before he builds it. Birds, we assume, don’t. They’re just following instinct, picking up twigs and assembling them piece by piece in the crook of a tree branch until a nest materializes, never intellectualizing or understanding this process of creating something from nothing in any way that resembles how we think about our own creations.

      The bird collaborates mindlessly with nature. Geniuses, I guess, collaborate with nature in a similar way, but mindfully. I guess. There have been a few times–when collaborating with others–that I had maybe a taste of what this truly creative process might be, but I always mess it up by intellectualizing it and attempting to control the outcome. And of course, I’m always trying to steer the outcome in the direction of something our sick, stuck, normative, uninspired culture will deem valuable.


        1. Jackie, that’s really cool. Didn’t know how advanced crows and ravens are.

          I’m still awed by a discovery I made when I was ten–that my dog could not only lie to me, but he could ACT. He heard me walk out the back door while he was trying to push open the back yard gate, which had a loose latch. At the sound of my approach, he immediately stopped pushing the gate and ran around barking at imaginary squirrels. As soon as I was out of sight, he dropped the play-acting and went back to his escape attempt. He was a good actor, too. I could almost see the squirrels.


  3. thank you Stephers, I very much appreciate your work. I’m listening to Steven Strong talk about Uluru right now and he mentioned humans connecting with hand-shakes and the nano-tech effort to cut us off from our spirituality.

    I also want to thank Steven Kelly–I gotta say the synchronicities right now are off the charts for those tuning in to what’s happening. here’s a link to Strong’s appearance on Grimerica:


  4. Stephers, thank you for this post. I didn’t know what I was getting into as I finally sat down to read it today, but it read easily and was easy to follow.

    I know what fear is … I lived through the Cold War, a deliberate psyop designed to keep us in a state of fear. Terrorists took the place of communists, boogeymen, and nothing new under the sun, Mencken said (in 1918) … “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” SARS-CoV-2 is just the latest hobgoblin.

    I am not afraid. Maybe I will be, and I know I can be. But I don’t walk around in a state of fear. To relax I go down to the garage and build things, lately rolling planters. Sometimes I have noise on, but often just silence as my mind wanders (of course, while working with power tools). In stores as I am the only unmasked one I simply go about my business, refusing eye contact. Let them be afraid. I am not. Travis reminded me in in our interview (which I will link to in a day or two pending what you and Steve have going) that my refusal to mask up might become bioterrorism in our insane world, jailable and finable, and that gave me pause. The world is run by lying liars, after all.

    You might enjoy the lighter side … back during the dot com boom, a company was formed that (I don’t remember how) was going to cause a scent to emit from your computer from various websites. The discussion that naturally followed was what the odor of your particular website would be. The usual scatological jokes ensued, along with smelly socks and armpits. I imagined for POM that coming here would yield a breath of fresh air.


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