Friday, January 22, 2010

An epistemology of the sense of taste

[This post was translated by Pascal Hideki Hamonic from the Japanese original post "味覚の認識論" written by Michinori Fukushima]

The sense of taste is particularly a virtual sense. What the body feels like eating is perceived as delicious?

Strangely enough, oftentimes you would find yourself eating up a dish that you dislike, or find yourself eating repeatedly the same dish that you dislike. Sometimes, even if you think that a particular dish is good, you won't eat it twice.

"The sense of taste is something unique. First, your tongue will feel it as quite refreshing. Then, your tongue will deeply feel the light sweetness."

This quote from the famous manga "Oishinbo" illustrates one wonder of taste. (By the way, hotness and "mattari" are tactile perception, they are not exactly savors.)
Now, let's say that your tongue is paralyzed and you feel nothing. What would happen? Below is an excerpt from a report.

"Dysgeusia, the disorder of taste is very tough. Whatever you eat, you feel like chewing sand. It's as if someone was forcing you to eat rubber or clay. In some cases, you even vomit what you have just ingested. You may become hypersensitive to sweetness.
Healthy individuals are certainly unable to understand that situation."

The world is completely changed. Completely transformed.
Tastiness, light sweetness do not exist anymore. They become completely virtual, only entities produced by your brain.

From now own, I'd like to express my personal opinion. Transmitted from the sensory system of the tongue, the taste of something may be perceived as lightly sweet and therefore interpreted as good or it may be perceived as disgusting. But I think that those perceptions are based on a mechanism related to Evolution.
Originally, the five senses of taste were all informational inputs and in order to determine whether or not something was positive or favorable for the human body and brain, the question was not "Is it delicious?" but "Is it nutritious?". Also "Is it necessary for my brain?", "Is it poisonous?" were other such questions.

That means that even if that tastes terrible at the beginning, as long as it's nutritious, you will find it eventually very tasty. That's my point.
In other words, let's say that you wanna sell something that tastes terrible. Well, you just need to put on top of it nutritious elements and ultimately people will find it tasty and buy it.
That's possible. Why not?

To test the idea explained above, I tried and had some of Aojiru....It tasted terrible...orz


  1. Why do you it's virtual? What do you exactly mean by that?
    I don't think that's the right word.

    What distinguishes TASTE from all other senses, is these 2 points:
    1) you only perceive a narrow range of stimuli.
    2) you feel it quite far away, vague, ambiguous, difficult to manipulate, difficult to describe linguistically.

    And I think it makes sense. Because if not for these 2 points, you will be able to dupe easily your brain to make you love and eat something un-nutritious at all... and Human Kind risks extinction...

  2. You mean that it's difficult to cheat on taste but easy to cheat on sound and other senses, relatively?

  3. If I define Virtual by whatever physical stimulus converted in electrical signal and interpreted by the brain, then Taste is no more no less virtual than any other sense;

    What I think you wanted to mean is the fact that Taste is a particular sense in that it seems to float ambiguously, vaguely up out there ; the Brain does not have a detailed image of what it is, nor a precise feeling of it etc...
    And I think it's all on purpose from Evolution.

  4. Yes sure taste is a particular sense.
    You can reproduce more or less a kind of sort of object that embeds the same visual information as what you say at originally, based on a drawing.

    The same thing for sounds. You can use your voice by uttering something that is similar to the original sound.

    The same thing for the touch. I can pinch your arm and reproduce a similar feeling as what you felt when you were struck at the beginning, right?

    But as for taste and smell (they are linked), you have basically to use molecules and cast them inside the nose and on your tongue.
    We don't have yet that ability...