Advanced Sensory Convergence Basics

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[Wow this post was long ago and its some terrible writing. Many of these ideas of been updated significantly since then.

If you are here with an interest in magic, consider these post where I reference the books Sleights of Mind:
Nature vs. Nurture vs. Cocktail – Holistic vs. Salient Creative linkage
Olfactory Phantoms and Illustrations of the Dynamics of Perception
A Theory of Wine & Food Interaction
Advanced Super Stimuli Basics
A Case for  21 and Other Small Insights]

I have recently been trying to synthesize and ton of new information and probably have been doing a horrible job. Don’t forget this is only a blog. So here goes.

I should probably start with an update of the olfaction in terms of gustation olfactory construct. The term olfactory construct seems proprietary, but comes from a book called Aroma: Cultural History of Smell. It basically refers to the divisions cultures uses to classify their olfactory world. Most all cultures use highly subjective symbolic divisions (things like good/bad, male/female, earth/water/fire), but it could be possible to use a fairly objective cross modal metaphors. I chose a gustatory analogy and it is at the moment based on my artistic intuition rather than hard science. Hopefully science will eventually validate my intuition, but while I’m waiting I’ll still use it to create beautiful things.

An interesting paper (Smelling Sounds: Olfactory–Auditory Sensory Convergence in the Olfactory Tubercle) talks of sensory convergence which is essentially the underlying idea of my construct. Other explanations like synaesthesia do not seem to have the right connotations.

Another great book I’ve been reading lately (Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About our Everyday Deceptions) speaks of mirroring functions in our brains that are important for anticipation. If we use one sense to anticipate another we may end up with convergence as we come to rely on the predictions.

Drastic illusions might happen when we consume highly abstracted foods. We seem to have 21 years of eating minimally abstracted foods until alcohol enters our lives. Things get wacky when you introduce fermentation, infusion, and distillation. 21 years of mostly correctly correlating olfaction and gustation becomes strange when the sweet aromas of a wine do not correlate to its gustatory structure because all it’s sugars were converted to alcohol. Our linguistic techniques for describing these experiences starts to break down.

So does a lot of the pleasure of drinking alcohol containing beverages rely on all this pent up convergence? Is a cocktail a multisensory magic trick?

Sleights Of Mind is also devoted to a study of attention and consciousness which has been a big focus on my culinary theory building. Culinary art is subject to similar attentional order of operations as the visual-auditory systems.  Attention to aspects of a flavor can be mapped and controlled just like the visual-auditory exploits of the magician. Same principles, different sensory modalities. And just like magic, the intuition of the artist might outpace science.

Another priceless nugget from the book is the notion of a sensory after image. Visual after images are the most well known but every sense experiences them. Reactive wine pairings might be based on these after images as well as the notion of a wine having a long finish.

Wine pairings may operate similar to Black Art stage illusions. In the illusion, we cannot differentiate between the black on black props (everything is wrapped in black felt) and the color of everything else is somehow enhanced and brightened. Matching gustatory aspects like acidity between wine and food could enhance and brighten other aspects similar to the props on magician Omar Pasha’s stage.

This high contrast effect might also explain some of the pairing strategies used in Francois Chartier’s Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food With Wine. I did not really enjoy his book. Chartier did not really define a pairing or articulate the results of interactions like an aroma or gustatory sensation being magnified harmonically or inharmonically. He also did not spend enough time with gustation when it is at least just as important to a harmonic reaction as the aroma of a wine.

Re-stimulating aromas is described in Auvray and Spence’s review, The Multisensory Perception of Flavor. They do not use the term after image, but describe mint gum whose aroma fades over the course of chewing but can be reawakened by introducing more gustatory sweetness (sugar). So what exactly is happening here and what else can we do with it? Maybe we could create a list of foods with aromas that produce the most intense and reactive after images. I’ll be the first to add Porcini mushrooms to the list.

Auvray and Spence describe the brain’s tendency to create locations for things that you are smelling. The other day I was eating meatballs and red sauce at work while a coworker was applying mint aromatized hand sanitizer. The aroma of the mint made the vivid and noticeable move from Sam’s hands to inside my mouth which was quite inharmonious. Quite the illusion. It would be cool if we could use it in a beautiful context.

Out of time, more to come!

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3 thoughts on “Advanced Sensory Convergence Basics”

  1. i read through the auvray and spence paper after you posted it in the bitters topic on egullet. i really enjoyed it, along with the contentious discussion, and have found myself thinking much more broadly and critically about the role particular ingredients play in cocktails. it’s frustrating that the semantic conservatives focus on traditional definition when the important issue is gaining a clear understanding of function. forest, trees, all that…

    i’ll be in providence for a couple weeks in late august/september. hope to make it up to boston too. where are you found these days?

  2. hi dave,

    glad you liked the paper. i’ve started to find more like it. very interesting things are happening right now with sensory science. i’ve had a lot of fun pondering it all. the language laymen use often has a basis in these strange phenomenons of “convergence”. wild stuff.

    i just left my last bar position and am starting at a new place that hasn’t opened yet (a few more weeks). hopefully all will go well.

    let me know when you are closer to visiting the city. it would be awesome to get together and have a drink.

    cheers! -stephen

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