Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Non-Linearity of Deliciousness

I've been thinking about my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating food (and other things) on a scale of 1-to-10 (see here).

First, a paradox. If someone well versed in this rating system tells me a pizzeria serves "6" slices but "8" grandma slices and "7" garlic knots, they've delivered a surprising amount of data, painting a puzzlingly evocative picture of the place. I still don't understand how/why.

Second, I believe the scale is non-linear. An "8" is more than twice as good as a "4". Perhaps way, way more. Like thousands or millions of times more.

Dark adaptation - our visual system's ability to readjust, albeit slowly, to a darker environment - is a bigger deal than people realize. It is spectacularly non-linear. You may feel as though your dark vision improves incrementally after, say, the sun goes down, but it's actually logarithmic. Huge. Once you're totally dark adapted, your vision is, like, thousands or millions times* more sensitive. It's a spectacular feat (the downside is that it takes ten minutes to complete the adaptation process).

* - I knew the exact numbers in college, but can't find them right now

You don't realize anything so sweepingly miraculous is happening, because you're used to it. However, there is one clue. Turn on the lights in a dark room after you've adapted, and you'll experience a jarring wave of discombobulation. You will be completely overwhelmed. This tells you how far you've truly gone.

Similarly, going from a "7" ("Soulless but good") to an "8" ("Elicits vocal expression of pleasure") creates a jarring wave of discombobulation. A sense of being overwhelmed.

So while it's impossible to quantify aesthetic experiences, the gradations are non-linear, and sharply so. This is one reason for my conviction that deliciousness is never accidental. It's just too steep a climb, considering that "Mmmm!" is thousands, or millions, of times better than "Meh".

Serve me something delicious once, and I'll remain perpetually receptive to your work, no matter how much crud you serve me in the meanwhile. Deliciousness is never accidental.

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