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They say that people are attracted to one another because of pheromones that we can smell. What would happen if you took pheromones from a woman that I’m attracted to and applied them to a chimp or a gorilla or a bear? Would I be attracted to the animal too?

— Love R. Boy, San Diego

Again we run into our old friends “they.” Always full o’ facts, they are. Like, maybe you could fall for a grizzly if it just smelled right. That the only thing standing between you and a meaningful relationship with a polar bear — nuzzling each other, writing love notes to Al Gore over lattes at Starbucks — is that funky wet polar bear stink. Not sure whether you were looking forward to having an ursine gal pal or not, but considering all the poop we know about pheromones, I hope it’s “not.”

Pheromones are chemical signals that trigger a natural physiological or behavioral response in an animal of the same species. The lower the critter is on the evolutional scale, the more its behavior is affected. It’s not a substitute for a cuddle with a koala, but if you dabbed a little female moth pheromone behind your ears, pretty fast you’d be covered with flapping amorous male moths. Busy science guys have found pheromone responses in rats, mice, hamsters, amoeba, elephants, aphids, lobsters, fruit flies, termites, bees, pigs, sea urchins — a whole batch of lesser beings. But in people, not so much.

Despite the fact that you can find vats of pheromone-enhanced perfumes advertised on the internet, the science guys can only guess what part of the human body exudes these chemicals and whether our noses might respond differently to them than to ordinary smells. No one has isolated a human pheromone. But if the science guys have to guess, they usually guess that pheromones could be part of armpit odor. One of the most startling studies used pit smell to show that women who live together for extended periods tend to develop synchronous menstruation. Babies can recognize their mothers’ smells. And pheromones might play a role in the fact that men and women tend to mate with spouses with compatible immune systems. But I guess none of these is quite what you’re looking for, Love R.

Us human beans are strongly visual and auditory in our approach to the world around us. Our lives are not as strongly controlled by chemical signals as aphids’ or hamsters’ days are. (The Reader, after all, is stuffed with ads to make you a 36DD. Not one ad promising to fluff up your pheromones.) On the other hand, science guys who work in the smell arena predict that once they’ve done the proper research, we’ll be surprised at what areas are affected by inter-being chemical connection. I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to overcome that big bear stink, though, and bring your dream to life.


After losing three of six TV stations from the analog-to-digital change, even after purchasing a new DTV to avoid having to purchase a converter box for my old TV (I also have the proper UHF-VHF antenna — indoor rabbit ears), I’d like to know how this change to digital was influenced or financially supported by the TV cable and satellite providers, possibly with the long-term anticipation of ending free TV permanently. If you answer this in the Reader, I’ll be surprised.

— Jim Reeber, via email

Well, surprise, Jim! Do you think the Reader is part of some dark media plot led by the cable and satellite companies? Well, last I knew, we weren’t. Nobody around here has the energy to get involved in dark plots. In the case of the attack of the digitals, Jim, you have the wrong bad guy. The evildoer in question is the gov’mint, of course. The FCC wanted its airwaves back. (Well, our airwaves, actually.) Too many new things such as garage doors and microwave transmitters and radio-controlled toys battling for bandwidth. Emergency vehicles, satellite thingies. An endless queue of transmitters. The feds can now reorganize the broadcast spectrum and auction off the empty spaces. Nobody’s getting rich at the Dish Network. And I’m a little surprised that you decided it would be cheaper to buy a new TV than to invest in a converter box. There were even coupons available to subsidize the cost of the boxes. Oh, well. Go get the FCC, Jim. We’ll be right behind you. Just as soon as we finish lunch and take a nap.

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