Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world , not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it. Stephen Covey
In Jonah Lehrer’s book, Proust Was A Neuroscientist, he tells of experiments conducted by Frederic Brochet in 2001 at the University of Bordeaux. Appropriately enough, the experiments involved wine. In the first one, Brochet took two glasses of the same white wine, colored one of them red with food coloring, and proceeded to get the observations of 57 wine experts.
I can just see them sniffing, swirling and sipping the wines with an air of sophistication and culture, can’t you? The experts described the “red” wine in terms of its”jamminess” and other knowing, red wine terms. Not one of them actually identified it as a white wine.
In another test, Brochet took the same medium quality Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One was labeled as a fancy, fine wine. The other was labeled as a table wine. The wine experts gave the same wine in the different bottles very different ratings. The wine in the expensive bottle was described as “agreeable, complex, balanced, and rounded.” The identical wine with cheap label was “weak, short, light, flat, and faulty.”
What these wine experiments illuminate is the omnipresence of subjectivity….Our human brain has been designed to believe itself, wired so that prejudices feel like facts,opinions are indistinguishable from the actual sensation. If we think the wine is cheap, it will taste cheap. And if we think we are tasting a Grand Cru, then we will taste a Grand Cru.
He explains that the taste of the wine, like everything, is not merely the sum of our senses. What we experience is not what we literally sense. What we experience is the interpretation of sensations by a subjective brain which also factors in beliefs, biases, memories, and desires.
He goes on to say that even if we could experience the wine exactly as it is, without subjectivity, we would still all experience it very differently. This is because each of our brains are unique on a cellular level and the part of the brain which interprets taste and smell is extremely plastic or changeable and is always growing and pruning neurons throughout our lives. Only the cells that respond to the smells and tastes we are actually exposed to survive. Our brains begin literally to reflect what we eat.
Everything in our lives is like the wine experiments. Every situation or event, past, present, or future becomes whatever we project on to it. Our reality is entirely subjective in this way and becomes completely our own creation. Likewise, our brain is going to physically respond by reinforcing neural connections that coincide with our thinking.
I think I will see the wine glass as half full. Cheers!