Does a Novice and an Expert have the Same Sensory Experience?

wine glassSome philosophers hold the position that wine tasting (or any kind of tasting for that matter) is a purely sensory experience. No input from the mind—thoughts, knowledge, or use of language—has any impact on what we taste.

Thus, a novice with little experience tasting wine and a highly educated wine expert, when they taste the same wine, are having the same sensory experience, assuming they have similar biological capacities. The expert can use her knowledge to compare the wine to other wines and evaluate it according to criteria which the novice cannot do. And the expert will get intellectual pleasure from her knowledge of how the wine was made or where the grapes were grown. Knowledge may contribute non-sensory pleasure to the experience.

But with regard to the sensory experience itself, no cognitive input is necessary.

This strikes me as implausible. In the transition from tasting novice to expert, I imagine we all have experienced our tastes changing as we gain more knowledge of regions, varietals, winemaking styles, etc. The increasing expertise seems to be having some impact on what we are able to taste.

It has also been firmly established in countless studies that our beliefs about, for instance, the price of a wine influence not only our judgment about the wine but the properties the wine is perceived as possessing.

Furthermore, I think it is rather common to be puzzled about what aromas a wine exhibits until someone says “that’s baked apple” at which point the baked apple becomes crystal clear. It seems to me the suggestion doesn’t merely give me a label to assign to the aroma. It makes the aroma more salient thus changing the experience.

On my view, beliefs, knowledge, and linguistic signs regulated what is salient—what stands out from the background—and thus directly influences the sensory experience.

The novice and the expert are not having the same experience at all.

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