Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Failed Experiment

Come on! Spit it out! Ask the question! Don't be shy! - That's better, yes! - and it's a good question that you ask: Why indeed am I reading a book titled "How to Fossilise Your Hamster" ?
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- No it's not because I want to fossilise a hamster (although there are a few people I would like to fossilise and the information might well come in handy) - but no, it's because I am also reading a book called "Western Philosophy An Anthology" and one needs to live a balanced life in all things doesn't one. Mahler and Beethoven need to be balanced by pop music. Plays by Chekhov need to be balanced by films like Mamma Mia. This little book provides a crucial counterpoint to my thick philosophical tome.
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- The book enables you to solve experimentally all the fun questions that the book poses - It allows you to find out why shaken and stirred martinis taste different. It shows you how to find out why cooked dumplings float, while uncooked ones remain close to the bottom of the pot? and why newspaper has a preferential direction for tearing? - All the sorts of answers to questions you have spent your life dying to ask but have been too afraid to do so - The book has oodles of experiments that you can delight yourself with. As I flicked my way carelessly through the pages my eyes rested on something interesting. On page 60 under the title 'Apple fool' this question is posed.
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"Is it true that you can fool yourself into believing you are eating something other than the food that's in your mouth?"
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Hmmm, I thought, this is a question that has been torturing me for decades - The sleepless nights thinking about this crucial matter don't bear thinking about. So I put on my white laboratory coat, spread a few petrie dishes and test tubes around, lit a Bunson burner to create a scientific ambiance and got to work.
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First I read the hypothesis - ".... most of what we call taste is actually flavour produced by the smell of food passing from our mouths into our nasal cavities where we detect it through our sense of smell, or olfaction. True taste is only the bitter, sweet, salt, sour, and umani (savoury) detected by the taste buds. Bite into a strawberry and your tongue only tells you that it is sweet, just as it would if it were chocolate. It's the odours rising through your throat to your nose that tell you that that particular sweetness is strawberry flavoured. If you remove the sense of smell or block those odours, or as in the experiment replace them with something else, you can confuse your senses of taste and smell."
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Righto, I thought and got to work this morning at the kitchen table with one eye out for the postman (bad move folks) and I quickly gathered together the components of the experiment -
- a slice of apple
- half a pear
- my nose
- my mouth
When all these components had been collected and were standing to attention they were fully briefed as to what would happen and all their questions and concerns answered before I got on with the experiment.
I did this by holding the pear under my nose while eating the slice of apple - and according to the hypothesise I would realise "Despite the fact that you are eating apple, you'll think you are eating pear."
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The apple was a lovely sweet 'Gala' apple and the pear was of some nameless variety, but crisp and sweet tasting. I placed the half of the pear (which I had cored) under my nose and began to eat the apple. I bit into the apple with my eyes closed carrying in my mind the scientists wondrous faith in the words of a proven hypothesis .. and tasted - well, a very, nice, sweet, APPLE! - The dissonance was similar to using your mates briefings on cool moves and words of sweet nothings - starting confident with eyes closed, puckering into space, and finding, well - space, and then on opening, seeing the girl with the bedroom eyes dancing with someone else!
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At this point I could see that the hypothesis was as yet unproven. Holding my head without posing, but somewhat like Auguste Rodins 'The Thinker, ' I mused about my experimental method whilst muttering to no one in particular some cryptic scienific terms. " Fuck it, that didn't bloody work", I said.
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I repeated the experiment, this time pushing my nose firmly into the hole vacated by the pears core. With this firmly wedged in place on my nose, both my hands were now free to stuff some sweet Gala apple in my mouth.
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At this point and as the sweet dappled aroma of Gala apple filled my senses in defiance of the pear hanging on my nose I noticed that the postman was moving slowly away from the letterbox not 6 meters from where I was standing. He was riding one handed, smiling weakly, shaking his head and with one finger raised on his free hand, he was making slow pendulum movements not unlike a musical metronome or a full screen window wiper.
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Dear reader, if you have the time and the raw intelligence of the scientist such as I, please repeat the experiment to confirm that I have indeed disproved this outrageous hypothesis. An hypothesis which carries the implication that you can make a raw turnip taste somewhat different by eating it with a piece of pizza stuffed up your nose!
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6 comments:

Janice said...

Alden dear, I really think you should go sailing; it'll clear your head, and, if you take that ridiculous book with you, you can throw it overboard somewhere deep where it can't bother you anymore. And try to behave normally when that poor postman comes, or the next thing you see will be white coats and butterfly nets! And I warn you, you must find some nice hobby before you actually retire, or we're all in for a bumpy ride! Perhaps you could collect things on the beach (they are, after all, free, and won't eat into your retirement savings), and then you could glue them to your house. Eventually you could charge people to see your work, and become known for the fine eccentric you truly are. now there's a good lad, just keep yourself busy, and I'll check in from time to time to see how you are doing, shall I?

Alden said...

Well you know, you are actually making comment on an eccentric NZ tradition of sorts. There was a famous house in Invercargill which had the entire insides (and maybe the outside although I am not sure about that) lined with Paua shells, (North American equivalent would be Abalone?).
A dear old Invercargill couple created this startling piece of Folk Art I guess you could call it and entertained tourists for decades.
The Paua collection is now displayed with a re-creation of their house in one of our National Museums at this point in time.
Despite my many retirement interests I think I may take up your advice and glue things to the outside of the house - what do you suggest? - dried octopuses? or maybe I could create something relevant to 21st ocean flotsam and jetsam by building myself a much needed double garage out of the great abundant harvest of our oceans - washed up plastic bottles.

Janice said...

One time when I was on the beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island, I noticed that among the flotsam and jetsam there were hundreds of bright pink plastic tampon containers which somebody said were from Japan or some place. It occurs to me that you could make your house a testament to man's refusal to live gently with nature; it would be a huge guilt-trip for anybody who saw it. Of course, it would make your house look pretty weird, and your wife might have some objections, but think of the service you could do both to our oceons, and to mankind as well. Don't nail any mermaids you come across up there, as that wouldn't be nice for them. Another thing you could do, though, is pipe a theme song outside on a continuous loop; how about that Sesame Street song that goes "one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong"? Well Alden, these are just little ideas I'm throwing out here, and you don't have to take them seriously at all. After my big move to Comox, I think I've become a little addled because of the boxes that are still piled up everywhere!

Alden Smith (Nick name - Pal) said...

Janice, I like your style - if you are going to protest about something you might as well make a good job of it I say - but you know this whole business of rubbish in the ocean is very serious isn't it - I saw on the news recently that there is an area between Alaska and Japan of converging currents the size of Texas which contains billions of tons of plastic waste - the scale of this plastic rubbish dump is huge, with no end to the dumping in sight.
When you see the images of all this it puts a serious connotation on those cliche cartoons which has someone wandering around with a sign saying "Repent for the end is nigh!"

Janice said...

Yes, and it makes me very sad that we human beings are such absolute slobs in the way we strew our waste around our beautiful planet - and all this plastic, that will never biodegrade, and that is positively choking our oceans and landfills. I don't know how it is in New Zealand, but in North America it's almost impossible to buy any liquid that isn't encased in plastic, and none of it refillable. Seems to me that if we can keep refilling our water jugs, we could do the same with laundry detergent, or cleaners, or just about anything that isn't corrosive. And speaking of corrosive, how about the stuff we pour down our drains? We human beings do things because we can, not because we should, and I think it's time we recognized that the earth would be better off without us!

Alden Smith (Nick name - Pal) said...

Yes you are absolutely right.
But there is going to be an interesting revenge in all this. Apparently over time the plastic doesn't dissolve or disappear, rather it is slowly ground down into sand sized particles or smaller and these get back into the food chain as they settle on organisms that fish eat - so in the final analysis, we humans may end up eating out own crap - there's a nice symmetry and a sort of perfect justice to that!