Are You a Supertaster?

The acuteness of our sense of taste is to our evolutionary advantage, to direct us to foods of high nutritional value and to help us steer clear of foods that might sicken or even poison us. The science of taste is today so much more complicated than simply a question of sour or sweet, bitter or salty. Umami, calcium, kokumi, even metallicity—among others—are just a few of the newly recognized tastes that have entered into the discussion. A super-taster can have up to twice as many taste buds as the average person, making for a much richer dining experience given the presence of all of these tastes to explore. But the reality is that super-tasting often makes for picky eaters.

Image from: Wikimedia.

Taste is so much more complicated than sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Image from: Wikimedia.

For more, read the following article from The National Geographic:

http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2014/09/30/are-you-a-supertaster/

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Do I Only Use 10% of My Brain?

While we might only be realizing a fraction of our potential, this does not mean that we only use 10% of our brains. Our body’s automatic functions (like breathing) or some of our actions that don’t take very much thought at all (like walking) all rely on the brain. We know this because of technological innovations like MRI’s that give us a greater understand of how—and how much—of the brain actively functions, technologies that have only become available since long after the advent of this myth. So the next time we are tempted to repeat the old adage, maybe we should instead opt to say what it is we really mean—that we have tremendous untapped potential, regardless of the percentage of our brains that we do or do not use.

For more on the science of brains, check out the segment from SciShow included below:

A Look at 10/6/1889: On Moving Pictures and “Talkies”

Image from: Wikimedia

Original poster advertising the groundbreaking talkie. Image from: Wikimedia.

October 6th is a celebration for film buffs everywhere. The first motion picture and the heralding out of the silent movie era share an unlikely anniversary, thirty-eight years apart.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Wait a minute I tell ya, you ain’t heard nothin’. You want to hear ‘Toot, Toot, Tootsie’?” says actor Al Jolson from behind the movie screen, effectively ushering in a new age of “talkies” or films with sound. The 1927 film opens up with an orchestral sequence, much like the other silent films of the time. But Al Jolson’s words break the pattern, interrupt the music. No, the mainstream cinema “ain’t heard nothin’ yet,” nothing like this anyway.

Except, it sort of already had.

In 1889, Thomas Edison played a motion picture in his laboratory in New Jersey. He had invented the motion picture, experimenting with an idea that if you capture enough pictures and move them in sequence fast enough, the image effectively moves. The first time he tried this out, today so many years ago, he synchronized the moving picture with audio coming from a phonograph. The first moving picture spoke, but it would take another thirty some-odd years for the advent of sound in cinema to catch on.

The role of the film The Jazz Singer was to do just that. Boasting an award-winning cast, the film marks an almost tangible transition from the before-sound and after-sound era. Its opening and subsequent musical themes are a testament to the shift. A major theme in the plot is a shift in cultural values that was very much on the minds of people during the Roaring 20s. Where do old world values end and the values of a new world—a world that produces a whole new sort of music, a whole new sort of sound—begin? And what better way to illustrate that than through technological advancements that allow for expression of that sound? Unsurprisingly, the film was a huge success.

But being grounded in the present day, I find that there are moments when watching the film becomes difficult—not because our musical tastes have changed so drastically in the last century or because the father’s death scene is so heart-wrenching, but rather because of other expressions of themes that are deeply problematic in the present day. The titular jazz performer wears blackface, and Jewish traditions are arguably othered, first by the assimilating protagonist, and then by the gaze of an audience who consumes the spectacle. In watching the film today, we watch us watch ourselves struggle with basic ideas about unity and diversity and integration, ideas that are not irrelevant today and that will never be irrelevant.

Thomas Edison and The Jazz Singer gave us the tremendous power of sound in film. Now it is time for us to truly listen.

Sources:

From the Library of Congress (http://goo.gl/G1Zpx9http://goo.gl/S8N6Py)

From the Charles Edison Fund (http://goo.gl/JvcNpU)

From the American Film Institute (http://goo.gl/qtUnbO)

A Look at 9/29/1789 and the Close of the First Session of the U.S. Congress

1789 was a very exciting time to be alive. The French Revolution famously began with the storming of the Bastille, the element uranium was accidentally discovered in Germany, and—let’s not forget—Thomas Jefferson returned home from overseas, the first macaroni machine to enter the U.S. in tow. 1789 was the end of the world as a lot of people knew it, but it also marked a very fundamental beginning.

As of today, two hundred and twenty-five years ago, the first session of the United States Congress officially came to a close. Haunting the hallways of the Senate building in those days were figures as legendary as the indelible John Adams and Robert Morris who left his signature on both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. In a period of six short months, legislation as monumental and fundamental as the creation of a system of courts and the establishment of the State Department, then dubbed the Department of Foreign Affairs, was passed, the one act followed shortly after by another.

Image from: Wikimedia.

Jefferson’s drawing of a macaroni machine from 1787. If you want to check out his pasta recipe click here. Image from: Wikimedia.

It is easy to forget when we look back at this incredibly idealized point in our history, at the semi-mythical lives of these important figures in our past that we perhaps associate so closely with one another, that these men were not, in fact, so inclined to see eye-to-eye in terms of politics. Thomas Jefferson’s vision of America’s future was almost diametrically opposed to Alexander Hamilton’s. And Alexander Hamilton’s life would be cut tragically short fifteen years later due to a political rivalry with Aaron Burr that escalated to the point where he died dueling Burr on the coast of New Jersey. From the onset, a great political fear was factionalism and disunity.

Yet despite individual- and larger party differences, the first session of the United States Congress was as productive as it was. And so was the second after that. And the third after that. And so on.

1789 was an exciting time to be alive because of the spirit of unity and progress that bound the young United States together despite moments of political tension. It drove forward real, tangible political momentum. 1789 was a moment of creation, the moment of defining the American identity, a definition that has not remained static but continues to change and to evolve with its history. It is not the straightest line from 1789 to 2014, but here we are again. In any case, I know I’ll be celebrating the 225th anniversary of pasta in the United States.

Sources:

From the Library of Congress (http://goo.gl/D8zMb1http://goo.gl/6xd6Q3)

From Monticello (http://goo.gl/l4Ey6m)

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