Art and Science

Good news/Bad news from NPR’s Morning Addition Monday morning.  The good news.  Two thought provoking ideas ideas were offered, one about not blindly accepting accepted scientific concepts and the other on the artist’s role in science. The bad news. In order to hear these two ideas I had to withstand 7 minutes and 40 seconds of drivel disguised as a creative radio bit.  30 seconds would have been enough. First let’s discuss these ideas and then I will critique the bit.

Robert Krulwich‘s report was titled Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter… and Umami. The background. Several thousand years ago the Greek philosopher Democritus took up the question of how many tastes can a person taste. He postulated four; sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Once he marketed the idea to Aristotle and Plato and signed them as celebrity spokespersons all the Greeks were sold as were scientists for the next several thousand years. It became known became a scientific “fact” that everything we taste is some combination of those four ingredients.

No doubters until Auguste Escoffier said “Il n’est pas tellement”.  It is not so. Was Auguste a renown scientist? Doctor? Non! He was a chef. In fact in the late 1800’s he was thechef in France. He invented veal stock which according to the two knuckle heads on the radio (sorry, I could not completely wait until later to critique) was the most divine taste yet and was not a combination of the 4 accepted tastes. Sacre bleau!

Long story short a Japanese chemist had a similar thought. He discovered that this fifth taste was glutamate, particularly L-glutamate. It took another 100 years for scientists to take apart some taste buds and verify this fifth taste receptor. The taste was called umami in honor of the chemist.

So point number one. It is good to challenge common beliefs now and again. Even science can be wrong. However, in this day of religious nuttiness I prefer challenges with some appropriate support. Not just I said so. Point number two. Non-scientists, especially people with artistic capabilities often “see” reality before the scientists. Hopefully the scientists are listening. ‘Proust Was a Neuroscientist’ by Jonah Lehrer has more examples of artisans’ contributions to science. This idea of questioning the status quo when you have reason to believe differently is very intriguing to me. As is the concept that we should listen to and debate rather than simply dismiss alternate ideas.

OK I timed this. 1 minute 17 seconds to read this post so far.and I am a slow reader. I just saved you 6 minutes and 23 seconds of your life. Not to mention the quality of the time. It is hard to describe how pitifully Krulwich and Lehrer tried to create a theatre of the mind while dragging out this story. If you have the time to waste you can listen to it hear. When they start doing the cooking sounds as they tell Auguste’s part of the story just remember. I told you so.

About 48facets
What you read is what you get.

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