Areas of Unrest
6 May 2001 - Sense and Nonsense
QOTD: "Power corrupts, and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely." - Vinton Cerf
Reading: the Sunday L.A. Times
Listening to: nothing
I'm leaving on vacation tomorrow (Malta, with stopovers in Germany on the way over and in England on the way back) and, amazingly and uncharacteristically, I am already packed. More typically, I haven't done half the things I planned to do before leaving, but I might get some done in the morning before the shuttle comes to pick me up. This is one of those times when I feel like I really need a vacation. There's nothing quite like a week crawling around crumbling old buildings to restore the mind and body.
And, of course, England includes seeing Robert, which has restorative effects of a different sort. The last time I saw him, he gave me a book about the cultural history of ventriloquism. Steven Connor, the author of that book, points out that hearing and seeing are very different in that sounds are inherently transient, while sights are permanent.
That's an interesting point, but it barely touches on how the senses differ. Vision, for example, is really not just one sense. We can think of a sense of shape as separate from a sense of color; in fact, we even have different sensors for the two. Touch is the really complicated sense. In a biomedical engineering class, I remember learning that the same nerves that react to pressure react to temperature. If you take two identical weights and chill one, the cold one will feel heavier than the warm one. But you have to be in direct contact with an object to feel pressure, while you feel temperature indirectly. (Hmm, you could argue that you're touching the air. There's probably another complication depending on whether you're talking about conductive, convective or radiative heat transfer. It's the convective heat transfer that made Wednesday and Thursday in Colorado so bloody awful, with the wind chill factor increasing the misery of the damp and cold. But that's another story.) Incidentally, the current buzzword for the sense of touch is "haptic."
I'm posing this as a question regarding how many senses there really are. Are the five different types of tastebuds really five distinct senses? And what about smell, where we can detect thousands of different chemicals? Do we hear music or feel it as well? And how do emotions relate to senses?
I don't have any great answers to this. I know that one of the things I love about travel is the change in the sensory environment. There's nothing quite like walking through the spice section of a big open market, smelling the fragrances and listening to the merchants calling out their prices, watching purchases being weighed, sampling a taste. (The best visuals are at fish markets, though. You have to get up absurdly early but the spectacle at a wholesale fish market is astonishing.)
Which brings me to this week's food pornography. We finally tried Emiliana, a fairly new Boulder restaurant. My main course (walnut-crusted salmon with leeks and garlic sauce, served with celeriac mashed potatoes and broccoli) was very good. But the dessert was the truly awesome experience. I don't remember what it was called (something pate), but it started with a dense fudge brownie, topped with a terrine of hazelnut scented chocolate, surrounded by whole hazelnuts, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla sorbet atop a crisp sugar cup (sort of like the crust of a creme brulee) and Frangelico creme anglaise. I couldn't finish it all and I still felt like I had gotten my quota of chocolate for the rest of the month.
Copyright 2001 Miriam H. Nadel
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