Why We Like What We Like
By Alva Noë
Can you tell the difference between gourmet liver paté and dog food?
I mean, can you tell the difference by taste?
Many of you are probably pretty sure that you could, and also that you could tell the difference between a $100 bottle of a splendid vintage and some $5 schlock, right? But can you really? In a blind taste test?
Scientists have looked into these questions and the findings are, well, they're disgusting. It turns out most people won't notice the difference between paté and dog food, so long as the latter is suitably presented with the right sort of garnish. And as for our ability to discriminate wine, even experts may confuse a white wine with a red when it is served at room temperature in a dark glass. And we'll enjoy soggy old potato chips, it turns out, if our chewing is accompanied (over head phones) by the satisfying sound of crunching.
What are we to make of this?
I think there is a temptation, when we learn of these studies, to feel that we have been somehow unmasked, exposed, revealed to be, well, inauthentic in our pleasures. After all, if we can't really taste the difference between cheap beer mixed with vinegar and an expensive micro-brew, then surely this means that our preference for the finer stuff is, well, a pretension. Maybe the evolutionary psychologists are right and our preferences are really complicated strategies to display wealth and win sexual partners.
And of course we're no better off when it comes to sex. We choose our sexual partners based in large measure on features that have nothing to do with the intrinsic "taste" of the sex acts themselves. If this were not the case, why would we care to have sex only with people of a given gender, or age, or appearance? Even blind men care about how women they meet look. Why? — Could you actually tell whether it is your wife's hand that you are holding, and not that of a perfect stranger, in a blind taste test, as it were? And what would it mean to you if you could not?
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that we are frauds and fakes. [continue]
How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like