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wine flavor wheelI keep seeing this inference in discussions about subjectivity in wine tasting by people who should know better.  Gordon Shepherd makes it in his book Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, and Jamie Goode makes it in his  otherwise fine book I Taste Red. Both insist that the flavor of wine is not in the wine but in the brain.

The mistake is this. From the fact that the brain integrates a variety of multisensory signals in order to create flavor perceptions, it does not follow that the brain creates the flavors that we perceive. Flavor is one thing. Flavor perception something else just as a color is one thing and our perception of that color something else. We can sometimes make mistakes when perceiving color and we can sometimes make mistakes when tasting wine. The act of perceiving is distinct from the thing perceived.

No doubt flavor perception requires input from our sensory system and the brain. But it requires something else as well—the flavors perceived. The mistake is to think that if perceptions occur in the brain that the thing perceived must also be in the brain. No doubt we can know only what we perceive but to think the thing perceived must then exist in the mind is to conflate what I can know with what exists.

The brain by itself does not create the taste of wine. And we don’t live in separate taste worlds as Jamie Goode sometimes suggests. We may disagree about what what we taste in a particular wine but we’re tasting the same wine.

Perception is an interaction between the brain and our environment—you need both to create a perception and the object is not an empty cipher. It has real causal properties without which perception cannot occur.