Tag Archives: taste

Finish Lines, Flying Sheep, Frantic Knives

There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down,
the other is pulling up.
— Booker T. Washington

The Finishing Line of Summer Research

This past week was my last of research and finally got to play with the brain-analysis program. Dream come true? What was very cool was that even though I had the smallest sample size ever ( N = 9), the figural creativity scores correlated with increased thickness in the brain regions that I wanted, particularly the TPJ! The TPJ is known as the temporal parietal junction, and that’s where the temporal and parietal lobes intersect. This area is a hotbed for connection, and is also implicated in Theory of Mind (understanding the concept of a mind, that other people have minds – people with autism have deficits).

The brain doesn’t quite look like a brain in the initial analysis because it’s inflated so you can see between the gyri. But down below is what the brain actually looks like (See how hard it is to figure it out):

Final memorable moments:

1) Hilarious phone calls to Dr. Lazar – someone apparently called and said they had a spontaneous awakening and wanted their brain scanned. They also claimed to be an advanced meditator because their “nose itched”. My nose itches right now too, does that mean I’m enlightened?

2) The Biggest Loser – STRESS EDITION – Dr. Britta Holzel, Sara’s fellow researcher who ahs also worked on many papers with her, was asked by a German production company from her native homeland to star in The Biggest Loser. The twist is that rather than losing weight, it’s the contestant who loses the most stress. So Britta’s role is to be the “meditator guru”, while other people will go through things like exercise, martial arts, counting sheep… to be honest I really have no idea where this idea is going. Again, evidence we’re a little too hyped up about “wellness” sometimes. I guess it’s better than more trashy episodes of the Kardashians (no hating) and shows an interest by the “public” in mental health.

Scents and Scentsability

So, hi, guess what? I’ve decided I want to do a [mini] documentary on the sense of smell and human conscience. How did my fascination begin?

Yoga-y: I’ve been told I have root chakra issues and root chakra (muladhara) is related to smell. Something about the psychology of groundedness and being in your body is related to this underappreciated sense.

Neurosciencey: Well, our other senses (and by that I mean the common five, not the extra ones) go through our sensory neurons, to the thalamus, then to its respective part in the cortex. BUT the olfactory system, considered to be part of our more primitive brain, engages in its own direct route. The neurons go straight to the olfactory bulb, which is seated next to the more primitive, emotional centers of our brain too, thus the deep connections of memory and emotions.

Food: Well it’s no secret I love food. But you seriously can’t taste without smell. I’ve started to do this new thing which all my friends make fun of me for – take a deep breath with your mouth, plug up your nose, and then eat something. The only things you can bring your attention to is the sensations created on your tongue and mouth…that’s real taste! It’s texture and sensations! You relearn what salty, umami, bitter, sweet, and sour really mean. You relearn how your mouth feels after certain food.

And then…keep playing and unplug your nose halfway through. WOOM you get a huge attack of flavor, and you can usually identify what you’re actually eating! Most fun with spices 🙂 Try cinnamon on your friends.

Currently reading “Season to Taste” by Molly Birnbaum, an incredible book with delightful descriptions of taste and smell, as well as a juicy handful of scientific knowledge (making the science nerd in me very, very happy). The book recounts her experiences as a chef who loses her sense of smell (anosmia) after getting in a car accident and damaging her brain. While deferring her space at a culinary institute, she falls into the world of journalism and slowly relearns to smell (first thing she detects is rosemary! Then chocolate woo). Can’t wait to meet and discuss with her next week at her book reading – going to ask her for tips on documentaries and also her thoughts on smell.

So basically –  philosophers loved to rave about vision, especially because it distinguishes humans, but why not study the sense that connects us more deeply to other more ancient creatures? I’m starting to read articles which I will update here, but to begin my exploration I watched a BBC documentary – things I learned:

  • many animals are super picky like the koala that will only eat 30 types of eucalyptus, sharks only eat fish (they tried giving them steak, chicken, lamb and swam off), carnivores on land hate sweet things, hummingbirds eat the equivalent of a human eating 1000 chocolate bars a day
  • humans, on the other hand, first like sweet and salty, then learn to develop a palate – “aquiring a taste” is so unique to humans, and may have been one of our many evolutionary advantages
  • I mean, take the crazy example of feeding stilton blue cheese (molded, fermented milk) to Asians, and feeding 100 year old eggs to Westerners. Each group finds it disgusting to eat the others’ delicacy
  • As humans, we’re much more sensitive to bad smells than good…rotting meat for example – sulphurs, small, fast moving molecules
  • Buteric Acid is the culprit for making cheese and vomit taste similar!
  • A lot of smells we’re averse to (excrements) are learned as we become older – initially as babies we don’t think they’re bad at all! (refer again to parmesan cheese and vomit similarities above)


I got to attend knife skills 101 with Chef Rolando!! I’ll update under cooking some of the knife skills I learned (by creating my own videos). Unfortunately, I didn’t pass my first time (a minute too slow), but hopefully with some practice I’ll get better.

Ayr had me go on a run around to Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Starbucks, and Crema Cafe (a local Cambridge coffee shop) to check out their basic black coffees. Conversations that I will always remember forever and ever and ever (thanks Ayr!). No, not really.


Me: “Where is this coffee from?” Her: “I have noooooooo idea. Look online.”


Me: “Where is this coffee from?” NiceIrishLad: “I have noooooooo idea. Oh wait. It says by Newman. Ummm Bolivia?”


Me: “Where is this coffee from?” 2 people: “Uhhhhhhh NO idea.” 1 awesome person: “It’s from somewhere in South America. Specifically, I don’t know. But I do know it’s a combination of farmers we rotate through to manage a flavor profile. And I swear it’s according to a bunch of sustainable codes, you can check online.”


Me: “Where is your coffee from?” Her: “Uhhhhhh you can ask George Howell, he makes our coffee. So go online.”

Conclusion after tasting? Somehow, Starbucks tastes way worse than McDonalds or Dunkin. Disturbing.

Also, I am so jealous of these kids who get fields trip to Clover!! I want one!

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Filed under adventures, Clover, creativity, food, meditation, science, smell

be sensible

May 29

Monday was Memorial Day, a holiday I’m not quite familiar with (I’m foreign, please forgive me). The general gist I got was that you get the day off from work, the streets become quiet (at least where I was), and people go frolicking the mountains.

So, Kelly, what did you end up doing all by your lonesome?

My standard response would be: I just chilled. What I really did was give my five senses a workout.

Let’s first reconnect with Harvard Nerd Co. for a little bit. I mentioned in a previous post that Shelley Carson broke creativity down into 7 components: Connect, Reason, Envision, Absorb, Transform, Evaluate, and Stream. I’ve already covered the basics of Connect, now we’re going to look at absorb.

This brainset is practiced by a lot of hypnotists, Buddhist monks, and yoga enthusiasts. Names of this state include: hypnosis, trance, alpha state, mindfulness, and primary process thinking. My favorite way to describe it is “openness to experience”. Please note: the concept of mindfulness I’m referring to is not the same as Ellen Langer’s. Although Carson refers to her in the book, I’ve found that her take on the matter is not the same as my understanding of the concept. More later.

So what’s the deal?

Remember how I talked about deactivating the parental, censoring executive center in your PFC for the connect brainset? Same thing. You want your brain to enter cognitive disinhibition (not to be confused with behavioral disinhibition a.k.a. acting like this). Thanks to our need to perform hundreds of tasks daily, we’ve become excellent protégés of cognitive inhibition. It means we’ve become pros at filtering out distracting information from our other senses so we can purely focus on one task. I’m not condemning it. In fact, it’s a great skill, but to fully enter the absorb brainset, you have to let that go.

What this looks like in your brain: in the absorb state, the neurotransmitters in your prefrontal lobes related to control judgment and inhibition are less active. At the same time, your temporal, occipital, and parietal lobes (that process sensory information) are more active. You are displaying bottom-up information processing (neuro majors will understand). Lastly, your right hemisphere is more active is more active in the absorb state than when you are deliberately thinking of problems.

People say they get their best ideas right before they fall asleep. That’s because their PFC is chilling out. People in the absorb state display alpha and theta waves in their brain, while people actively thinking (deliberate pathway) display beta waves.

Copyright Shelley Carson 2010 @ Harvard University Press

You know how artists can tend to become alcoholics? One reason is because when there is a deficit in your latent inhibition filtering system, there is a mild increase of dopamine in the mesolimbic pathway (related to novelty seeking and internal rewards). You get a pleasure shot (speaking of: there is a drink called neurogasm. Thoughts?) You can achieve this through meditation/yoga/being in the absorb state, but also through drinking alcohol. Hence the artistic dependence.

I still haven’t defined the absorb state. Let’s have some fun (a là Rebecca Black on a Friday afternoon). Wherever you are, lean back, ignore your computer, and observe your surroundings non-judgmentally. You’ve got five senses right? Let’s show them some love.

:We use our eyes a lot, but when we do, it’s to see and categorize. Look at everything around you but refrain from labeling. Instead, try to notice angles, shadows and how they can change an object’s colors, movement, shapes, patterns…  Oh hey good lookin’, tell me what you see here:

If you first thought any of the following: gate, doorbell, 465, spiderweb, leaves, or pot…you lose. You’re not meant to label anything you just saw. Instead, you’re meant to simply observe what’s presented to you (i.e.: notice the curves of the numbers, the fragility of the lines, etc.) You can get creative and notice how the gate looks like fish scales.

:Those two ugly things on the side of your head? They’re called ears (jokes by the way, you’re ears are works of art). Listen to the noises around you without classifying them. Notice the quality, texture, melody, harmony, loudness, and anything else about the noises around you. If you’re listening to music that’s okay too. If the song has lyrics, don’t focus on their meaning, but focus on the way the words are pronounced from the singer’s lips, the forceful gushes of air, and the flow of different sounds merging together (don’t try to categorize instruments either).

:Now take a deep inhale through your nose and smell. Don’t think about whether what you’re smelling is good or bad, simply let yourself notice what scent(s) you are picking up. Describe it. Does it have an edge to it? Does it burn? Does it have a smooth texture? Is it fresh?

:How does your skin feel? Is the air cold, humid, hot, or dry? Can you feel certain parts of your body – where you ache, feel relaxed, feel tense, feel energized? Notice the sensations in each part of your body. Run your hands over surfaces around you and take in what it feels like without judging it.

:And obviously, the best for last: taste. What is lingering in your mouth right now? Practice mindfulness eating. Get something to eat and first submerge yourself in the food ‘s scent for a minute. Then take a bite of the food. Let it settle on your tongue and allow it to melt. Notice the tastes that wash over and flood your palette. Take another bite but this time chew the food once. Watch how the flavor changes after one mechanical grind. Take another bite and this time fully chew. Don’t judge whether you like the flavor or not, but instead take the time to appreciate each individual spice and texture you can pick up.

You probably get the idea by now. The Absorb Mindset is grounded in a full, nonjudgmental experience of your environment as well as curiosity and openness. We’re used to only focusing on sight and sound, thanks to “technological mind change” (Susan Greenfield – thanks to Nancy Chen).

A common style of meditation is to guide your attention to each part of your body, working from the top of your head to your toes. Or you can have a sensory meditation, sort of like what I described above.

So I brought this up because Monday was a Day of Absorbing (religious undertones unintended). I strolled through Valencia Street, indulged in some food (I’ve noticed that I much prefer spending $$ on a delicious experience rather than a cute outfit), explored a diverse array of stores, and took photos.

Quick tangent: I love photography because it really makes me aware of my environment (oh hi there, absorb mindset). You can find me staring at a wall for a good fifteen minutes trying to take a shot. I find that photography – whether creative or journalistic – really grounds me to the present. After a good couple hours of photography I feel a lot more happy, sort of the way I feel after a session of yoga.

Anyways, memorable moments of my tour of Valencia Street is as such (Daily Nutrition Report included):

  1. Belgian fries with pomegranate-mint ketchup from Frjtz. I really wanted to try the other dipping flavors like white truffle artichoke ketchup, ginger orange mayo, and strawberry mustard, but alas, that was not possible. The fries weren’t anything out of the ordinary, really. But the ketchup was so worth it. It was a sick complementation: the mint worked with the ketchup surprisingly well. The hint of pomegranate also kept me on the edge (wow, I really live a dramatic life). Will return another time.
  2. A $4000 Unicorn Head for your garden @ Paxton Gate. Also notable: “Scary Nuns”. A book featuring photography’s of, well, scary nuns. They play in addition to work, apparently.
  3. Pre-dinner dessert (no shame): Saffron Ginger Ice Cream at Xanath (the name apparently means desire to associate with new people and experiences – potential Xena-esque name for your future child, perhaps?). Light, spicy, earthy. Also tasted the creamy apple cinnamon and red walnut & chocolate.
  4. Sniffed scents & soaps for half an hour at Currents while being soothed by the round, echoing notes of a ukulele. Proudly left the store without making a purchase.
  5. A healthy, green noodle dish with red curry, minced pork, bean sprouts, peanuts, and other spices at Osha Thai. Heavy, spicy, and so good. Enjoyed it with a glass of white wine (I would love to tell you the name and type, but can’t find the info) that had the perfect amount of sweetness. The taste of pear is what I remember most clearly. The description claimed that the wine had subtle undertones of jasmine, but I couldn’t really taste it. Perhaps the red curry took over my palette. Who knows.
  6. A pirate store. (They actually raise money for some sort of community program)

Lesson of the Day

I am not a valuable human being unless I have a $4000 unicorn in my backyard.


A little random, but enjoy!

I thought the juxtaposition was silly.

They were speaking to me.

This woman was mocking STOMP and almost knocked over my frjtz.

Fish scales.


Filed under alcohol, creativity, food, neuroscience, senses, shopping, spiritual, touring, wines