deep thought's write-up illustrates the point perfectly that memory is not simply tactile, but rather sensual, for what is the smell of mothballs but not an olfactory echo of something experienced in the past? deep thought nodes this phenomenon under tactile memory, but tactility is only one of the five senses recognized by western thought: the others are sight, sound, smell, and taste. These senses are powerful triggers to vital memory: think of the smell of something - say, for me, my mother's home-baked bread - or a sound - say, for me, Crosby, Sills, and Nash's Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. Substitute your own pivotal memories, and acknowledge that just a whiff of that smell, or a bar of that song, can transport you back to that lost time of your past in a way words cannot. This is the power of sensual memory.
This whole issue is interesting to me as an anthropologist, because the anthropology of the senses - such as it is - tends to rely on words. Anthropologists who are interested in the senses and/or emotions (I lump because I think the two are inextricably intertwined) generally compile an inventory of words which different cultures use to describe senses and emotions. This inventory theoretically functions to describe culturally specific ways of experiencing reality. But the whole idea that senses and emotions are captured by a verbal description belies the ineffable nature of sounds, smells, and tastes, which cannot be captured in vocabulary. Recognition of the power of the sensual world to define an individual's experience of reality, on the other hand, challenges this implicit view of culture as verbally based.
I have often dreamed that I could find some new vocabulary or representation of the senses which could adequately convey the power of sensual understanding in constructing people's comprehension of the world. Such an ideal vocabulary would be a way of capturing the individuality of people's experience of the world in the context of their cultures. I believe that exploring the various ways individuals and cultures deal with emotion, interpersonal relationships and humanity, could lead to the compilation of an inventory of cultural difference which taps into this very primal and powerful way of comprehending the world. But, relying on words as we in the west do, we are, I fear, far indeed from realizing this ideal.