dissabte, 15 de novembre de 2008

Neurophenomenology and taste

Sometimes it is considered that the "neuro" in "neurophenomenology" is just a way of reselling an old word in a new package. Something akin to: "We won't get any fundings if we use an old fashioned word related to XIX Century philosophy, we need to make it scientific." But this misses the point completely. You can call it "neuro", "physio" or whatever you might like, but in order to construct a meaningful and scientific theory of what the mind is we need some feedback back and forth between the first person dimension and the third, between the mind and the brain, in order to make some sense of the epistemological circle in which neurophenomenology is embebbed.
Let’s consider how we understand the phenomenological process of taste. More specifically, I’d like to take into consideration the “fifth taste” or umami. Despite the fact that it is well known in the East, in the West, untill recently we talked just about four flavors. Why did we accept the existence of a fifth one? A key reason was descovering the detectors for glutamatic acid that we all humans have in our tongue. The reason was not -as some people have speculated- that we didn’t have that flavor in our cooking. We do have it. Glutamatic acid is present in meat, cheese (parmesan seem to be particularly rich) in anchovies…
So the problem is not the lack of qualia, but a misrepresentation of it, not having a taste perception subtle enough to be able to distinguish umami from the other four tastes. In a pure phenomenological dimension this would probably lead to a problem impossible to resolve. The japanese person says that she notices umami in that piece of cheese, but the European one can’t find more than some combination of sweet, sour, salyt and acid tastes.
When we include physiological and neurological elements, like finding the detectors for umami in the tongue, we are generating a new type of discovery action, which helps to revise our own judgements on how many tastes there are.
And then just finding these new receptors and the chemicals they can trace is not enough. Otherwise it would be just neurological knowledge. Now we need to do an important phenomenological work of reclasifying our landscape taste, seeing also umami when we formerly saw only sweet, sour, salty and acid.
And we still have a lot to do. For example, the description on how to phenomenologically classify wines according to its taste still uses the four basic tastes. Very few wineries or wine experts talk about umami when describing wines. I could only find Randy Caparoso and Tim Hanni. We certainly need more iniatives like the Umami Information Center, trying to understand and make umami more known.

2 comentaris:

mjp ha dit...

A pesar de que me ha costado leer el texto puesto que está en inglés, al leerlo me ha apetecido dejar un comentario.
Aunque fuéramos a vivir durante una temporada a Asia, dudo en que sintiéramos el sabor umami. Más bien creo que si diéramos con este sabor, lo notaríamos un sabor extraño pero que lo asemejaríamos a uno de nuestros 4 sabores (agrio, dulce...). Algunos podrian decir que empezaríamos a percibir este sabor y a diferenciarlo de los demás, al llevar meses comiendo alimentos que tengan el sabor umami, pues así se establecería la misma conexión neuronal que tienen los asiáticos para percibir este sabor (plasticidad neuronal). Yo creo que esta plasticidad neuronal no se daría. La explicación que yo daría a esto es que si los asiáticos perciben este sabor es porque ese sabor es una experiencia que se ha construido entre ellos culturalmente. Por eso mismo, nosotros con el tiempo podríamso percibir un sabor extraño, pero no el mismo que ellos perciben.

David Casacuberta ha dit...

Bueno, el texto está en inglés solamente porque soy un poco perezoso. Mi plan original era ponerlo bilingüe. A ver si me animo....

Sospecho lo mismo que tu, que nos costaría realmente mucho acostumbrarnos al sabor. Lo curioso, sin embargo, es lo poco que sabemos del tema, la falta total de estudios que hay sobre estas cuestiones.