What Do You Do When Taste is an Unused Sense?

A walk in my neighborhood isn’t the place to test the last sense of our journey – taste.

The sidewalks in my 137-home development connect to the sidewalks of a development four times larger – a mishmash of single homes on small lots, single homes with detached garages linked by alleys, rows of townhomes, and even a few duplex townhomes sprinkled in.

And not a restaurant in sight or smell.

If I was adventuresome (and I have been), I could walk across a busy highway to a Mexican food truck that is parked in the corner of the gas station. Street tacos are the food item of choice, and a line always forms between 11:30 and 1:30 as local workers (mostly) drive in for their lunch hour.

But back on the sidewalks in my neighborhood, taste is a mostly unused sense.

Aside from sampling the lemonade of an aspiring young entrepreneur (whose aspirations lasted all of one day, apparently), there is nothing to engage the sense of taste in my neighborhood outside of my own home. I could crash a backyard party, but wouldn’t it be so much more fun to throw my own party and invite the neighborhood?

In other places around the country and around the world, it’s a much different picture. It may be restaurants old or new, food carts on the sidewalk, food truck gatherings, or festivals in the park with myriads of food choices – for many people, a walk around the block offers a delightful journey of the palate.

But like the other senses, is the sense of taste really located on the point of contact, our tongues and in our mouths?

According to The Fifth Sense, there is a common misperception that the word ‘taste’ refers to everything we experience when we eat or drink.  This isn’t actually true.

The word taste, or gustation, to give its full name, refers to what is detected by the taste cells, located on the front and back of the tongue and on the sides, back and roof of the mouth.  These receptor cells, or taste buds, bind with molecules from the food or drink being consumed and send signals to the brain.  The way our brains perceive these stimuli is what we refer to as taste, with there being five recognized basic tastes: salty, bitter, sweet, sour and umami.

According to author Michael J. Gelb, for most of us, the opportunity to taste presents itself at least three times a day. But in the rush of our lives, it is often difficult to pay attention. It is all to easy to “grab a bite on the run” and to consume an entire meal without really tasting anything. Instead of the rush to wolf down your meal and move on, pause for a few moments before eating. Reflect on the origins of the meal you are about to enjoy. Aim to be 100 percent present as you taste the first bite of your food.

To really be present in the enjoyment of tasting, Gelb recommends the following comparative tasting exercise:

Buy three kinds of honey (e.g. orange blossom, wildflower, clover), open the jars, and smell each one for thirty seconds. Describe the aromas. Then taste each one in turn; hold half a teaspoonful in our mouth and swirl it around on your tongue. Take a sip of water between tastes to clear your palate. Describe the differences in aroma and taste.

Now try the same comparison process with three kinds of olive oil, chocolate, mushrooms, apples, bottle water, smoked salmon, grapes, or vanilla ice cream.

Comparative appreciation of food, like that of listening to music, will dramatically accelerate the development of your sense of taste.

And it’s a lot of fun, too…

 

inspired by Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking

and Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing

and Michael J. Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

Let Your Feet Do the “Talking”

Even though this isn’t a neighborhood walk, I can’t think of a better way to let your feet do the talking than to take a walk through Disney’s Animal Kingdom and other venues at Walt Disney World…

Story is the essential organizing principle behind the design of all the Disney theme parks. Imagineers interpret and create narratives for Guest to experience in real space and time. – John Hench, Disney Legend and design genius for 60+ years.

To design an enhanced reality the visual elements of storytelling must be intensified, creating a vibrant, larger-than-life environment. The enhanced simple reality that Guests experience in Disney parks and resorts is created in part by heightened key sensory details, such as the sun-baked mud pathways and foot tracks of the African section of the Animal Kingdom.

A crack in a walking path is really the beginning of a story. The minute details that produce the visual experience are really the true art of the Disney-themed show. Remember for Disney, everything the Guest sees, hears, smells, or comes into contact with is part of the show. The details corroborate every story point, immersing Guests in the story idea.

Most of the first generation of Disney’s Imagineers – like John Hench – began their career in film and understood the importance of details in visual storytelling, but with a crucial difference: theme park design is a three-dimensional storytelling art that places Guests in the story environment.

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Bicycle tracks in pavement? It’s all a part of the story you’ve been invited into!

 

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The foundation of earlier buildings jutting into this sidewalk begs to know the rest of the story.

So what does it take to create visual storytelling on with footpaths, sidewalks, and walking trails? For that, let’s go directly to the source: Disney’s Imagineers.

Behind the Scenes – Imagineering 101

Themed paving is an important aspect of the all-encompassing realism to which Animal Kingdom strives. Most of the early paving designs were a fairly straightforward mix of stamped finishes, but the team realized that, for roughly the same cost, they could embed stories into the Park’s footprint. A series of samples was developed and refined until each one had a place in the Park layout.

These surfaces have to perform all of the functional requirements of normal pavement. They have to hold up to the weather, to constant foot traffic, to parades, to after-hours vehicular traffic, and any unexpected abuse. The team had to develop ways to work in the expansion joints and cold joints that would allow the concrete to expand and contract with changes in temperature.

As each texture was being developed, designers studied variations in concrete color, stains, acid washes, and base textures. These textures were captured in silicone stamps so that they could be replicated over large areas. Elements that help to complete the look for a given place were then rolled across the surface, be they footprints, animal tracks, leaf patterns, or bicycle and truck tires.

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Look in the space above this impression, and you will see a real tree with the identical branch patterns.

Finally, all of these ingredients are captured in a “recipe” that is documented so that the paving can be replicated when necessary for purposes of maintenance or expansion.

Source: The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom

What’s the story under your feet – and those of your Guests?

Most organizations are not going to even begin to approach the detailed design of Disney’s Imagineers in creating travel paths, flooring, walkways, etc. But the principle of what the Imagineers do is sound, and can be applied in any organization.

Transform your spaces – even those under your feet – into story places. Every element must work together to create an identity that supports the story of that place – structures, entrances and exits, walkways, and landscaping. Every element in its form and color must engage the Guests’ imagination and appeal to their emotions.

Like “peanuts” embedded in the pavement around the Casey Jr. train that carried Dumbo!

Your story begins under your Guest’s feet.

I only wish my sidewalks were this much fun!

 

inspired by Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking

and Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing

Your Nose Knows

I have discovered that the sense of smell, like the other senses, is engaged differently by the calendar.

For instance, if I am walking in the spring, my first scent will most likely be growing things: grass, trees, and flowers the most likely sources. But walk out the same door in the fall, and the scent will be decaying and dead things, particularly the leaves of the trees: having served their growing season’s purpose, they slowly die, then drift down to the ground to be blown away or collected and disposed of.

This same concept applies to man-made objects, and in my neighborhood, happens every Thursday. That’s the day when our roll-away waste containers are lined up like soldiers, one, two, or three abreast, standing at attention (some at-ease) at the end of the driveway. Throughout the day, the garbage trucks come by to grab, dump, and replace the empty containers back in the driveway. So on Thursdays, any walk down the sidewalk of the neighborhood is inviting your nose to be a collector of the last week’s life, now trash. Even through the plastic trash bags and mostly-closed lids, the odors can be pervasive. Decaying food is often the main component, but for those families with little ones, the odor of food comes in a different scent! By the design of the collection machinery, the lids of empty containers remain open – to air out, but also to announce to any passerby the strongest odors of what was formerly occupying the container.

And it is at this moment that your nose knows – not only what was in the container a short while ago, but what that scent brings to your memories.

According to science, the sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.  Those with full olfactory function may be able to think of smells that evoke particular memories; the scent of an orchard in blossom conjuring up recollections of a childhood picnic, for example.  This can often happen spontaneously, with a smell acting as a trigger in recalling a long-forgotten event or experience.

Given the time of year, try this the next time you are walking through Target or an office supply store: Pick up a box of crayons, open the top, and take a deep breath. Most likely, you will be transported from the store aisle to elementary school, with memories of your new box of crayons comforting the uncertainty of a new classroom full of friends yet to be made.

So how does your nose know?

According to the National Institutes of Health, your sense of smell – like your sense of taste – is part of your chemosensory system, or the chemical senses.

Your ability to smell comes from specialized sensory cells, called olfactory sensory neurons, which are found in a small patch of tissue high inside the nose. These cells connect directly to the brain. Each olfactory neuron has one odor receptor. Microscopic molecules released by substances around us—whether it’s coffee brewing or pine trees in a forest—stimulate these receptors. Once the neurons detect the molecules, they send messages to your brain, which identifies the smell. There are more smells in the environment than there are receptors, and any given molecule may stimulate a combination of receptors, creating a unique representation in the brain. These representations are registered by the brain as a particular smell.

Smells reach the olfactory sensory neurons through two pathways. The first pathway is through your nostrils. The second pathway is through a channel that connects the roof of the throat to the nose. Chewing food releases aromas that access the olfactory sensory neurons through the second channel. If the channel is blocked, such as when your nose is stuffed up by a cold or flu, odors can’t reach the sensory cells that are stimulated by smells. As a result, you lose much of your ability to enjoy a food’s flavor. In this way, your senses of smell and taste work closely together.

Without the olfactory sensory neurons, familiar flavors such as chocolate or oranges would be hard to distinguish. Without smell, foods tend to taste bland and have little or no flavor. Some people who go to the doctor because they think they’ve lost their sense of taste are surprised to learn that they’ve lost their sense of smell instead.

Your sense of smell is also influenced by something called the common chemical sense. This sense involves thousands of nerve endings, especially on the moist surfaces of the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat. These nerve endings help you sense irritating substances—such as the tear-inducing power of an onion—or the refreshing coolness of menthol.

And so all day, every day, you are confronted with a smorgasbord of smells. Your five million olfactory cells can sniff out one molecule of odor-causing substance in one part per trillion of air. And you take about 23,000 breaths per day processing about 440 cubic feet of scent-laden air.

But most people have a very limited vocabulary for describing aromatic experience: “It stinks” or “That smells good” are the most common references. If you want to pay attention with your nose, aim to increase your discrimination of and appreciation for smell by expanding your olfactory vocabulary.

Make “Smells” a Theme for a Day

Record what you smell and how it affects you through the course of a day. Seek out unusual or intense aromas. Linger in the cheese department of your favorite gourmet store. Drive to the country and walk through a barnyard. Inhale the aroma of all the herbs and spices in your kitchen. How does smell affect your moods? Your memory? Aim to find and record specific examples of aromas affecting your emotion or recall.

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael J. Gelb

By prompting yourself to focus explicitly on scents and odors, you will most likely find yourself remembering the past while also developing a new appreciation for what your nose knows.

 

inspired by Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking

and Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing

How to Take a Walk With All Your Senses

Welcome to the age of white noise.

We live our lives in a constant tether to phones, to apps, and to social media – mostly acquiescing to FOMO.

In this age of distraction, the ability to experience and be present is often lost, as is our capacity to think and to see and to listen.

Rob Walker, The Art of Noticing

In an effort to battle this, I’m inviting you to join me in taking a walk – with all your senses.

In short, I want you to pay attention.

At a basic level, paying attention is simply making a selection among all the stimuli bombarding you at any moment.

Even if we ignore most of what is going on around us, we can only take in so much of the world at a time. Our sensory system has a limited capacity, both in range and in speed of processing.

The sensory system I’m referring to are your five classical senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

Limited capacity aside, many times we unfortunately ignore the parts that are available to us. Leonardo da Vinci reflected sadly that the average human:

“looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”

A Brief Primer on How Our Senses Work

Sound The outer ear catches and channels sound waves to the middle ear, which contains three tiny bones. These bones vibrate, transmitting the sound the inner ear, where thousands of hair cells are stimulated by the movement of the fluid within the inner ear. An electrical impulse is transmitted along the hearing nerve to the brain creating the sensation of hearing.

Sight The experience of sight begins when photons from the world hit the lens of our eye, and get focused onto over 130 million receptor cells on the retina. These receptor cells convert incoming light into electrical signals to be sent to the brain, making sight possible.

Smell Every day we are confronted with a smorgasbord of smells. Our five million olfactory cells can sniff out one molecule of odor-causing substance in one part per trillion of air. We take about 23,000 breaths per day processing about 440 cubic feet of scent-laden air.

Touch Our bodies have more than 500,000 touch detectors and 200,000 temperature sensors. Each of these sensors gathers sensory information and relay it through specific nerve bundles back to the central nervous system for processing and possible reaction

Taste The complex process of tasting begins when tiny molecules released by the substances around us stimulate special cells in the nose, mouth, or throat. These special sensory cells transmit messages through nerves to the brain, where specific tastes are identified.

Enough of the science lab! God designed our bodies to sense, interpret, and react to the millions of stimuli that occur around us every day.

What do you miss, every day, right in front of you, while walking around the block?

I was paying so little attention to most of what was right before me that I had become a sleepwalker on the sidewalk. What I saw and attended to was exactly what I expected to see. That attention invited attention’s companion: inattention to everything else.

Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking

 

inspired by Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking

and Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing

 

photo credit: João Loureio

What Account Do I Draw From to Pay Attention?

Last fall I had the opportunity to be a part of The Adams Family Adventure – a week-long trip to Walt Disney World for my immediate family of fifteen: six children and nine adults.

All week long I had the most fun watching the rest of the family as they experienced Walt Disney World, most for the first time. We captured that trip in over 3,000 images, whose primary purpose was to bring up stories from our memory from that single image.

As we departed four different cities on the first day of our trip, we were texting and FaceTiming about our various experiences. It was the first airplane flight for four of the grandchildren (they did great). They left their homes early in the morning, took long flights, got on a big “magical” bus, and arrived at our resort.

To our grandchildren, it must have been a little strange. From the time they came running off the bus, throughout all of the fun adventures of the week, to the goodbyes at the end of the week, they were a little overwhelmed, maybe even overstimulated about the whole process – and I began to see all over again what it means to be curious.

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You can, and must, regain your lost curiosity. Learn to see again with eyes undimmed by precedent.   – Gary Hamel

My grandchildren’s curiosity was brought sharply into focus when I recently read the following:

In childhood, then, attention is brightened by two features: children’s neophilia (love of new things) and the fact that, as young people, they simply haven’t seen it all before.   – Alexandra Horowitz

On LookingAlexandra Horowitz’s brilliant On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes shows us how to see the spectacle of the ordinary – to practice, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle puts it, “the observation of trifles.”

On Looking is structured around a series of eleven walks the author takes, mostly in her Manhattan neighborhood, with experts on a diverse range of subjects, including an urban sociologist, a geologist, a physician, and a sound designer. She also walks with a child and a dog to see the world as they perceive it. What they see, how they see it, and why most of us do not see the same things reveal the startling power of human attention and the cognitive aspects of what it means to be an expert observer.

Here’s an illustrative example as Horowitz walks around the block with a naturalist who informs her she has missed seeing three different groups of birds in the last few minutes of their walk:

How had I missed these birds? It had to do with how I was looking. Part of what restricts us seeing things is that we have an expectation about what we will see, and we are actually perceptually restricted by that perception. In a sense, perception is a lost cousin of attention: both serve to reduce what we need to process of the world “out there.” Attention is the more charismatic member, packaged and sold more effectively, but expectation is also a crucial part of what we see. Together they allow us to be functional, reducing the sensory chaos of the world into unbothersome and understandable units.

Attention and expectation also work together to oblige our missing things right in front of our noses. There is a term for this: inattentional blindness. It is the missing of the literal elephant in the room, despite the overturned armchairs and plate-sized footprints. 

Horowitz’s On Looking should be required reading for ChurchWorld leaders. How often do we fly past the fascinating world around us? A world, mind you, that we have been called to serve.

How can we serve a neighborhood or community or a block of our subdivision if we haven’t paid attention to it?

To a surprising extent, time spent going to and fro – walking down the street, traveling to work, heading to the store or a child’s school – is unremembered. It is forgotten not because nothing of interest happens. It is forgotten because we failed to pay attention to the journey to begin with.

Will Mancini, Founder and Team Leader of Auxano, the vision clarity-consulting group I am a part of, has written eloquently on the subject. In his book Church Unique, he introduces a principle called “The Kingdom Concept” with references to artist Andrew Wyeth:

 Most artists look for something fresh to paint; frankly, I find that quite boring. For me it is much more exciting to find fresh meaning in something familiar.   – Andrew Wyeth

Mancini goes on:

What’s particularly interesting about Wyeth is that in more than fifty years of painting he never tried to capture a landscape outside of the immediate surroundings of his home in Chadds Ford Pennsylvania, and his family’s summerhouse in Maine.

 Ponder this starling fact for a moment: This man has touched the world with an ability he never exercised outside of his own backyard! His creative mind and brilliant skill, turned loose for ten hours a day and for years on end, can be forever satisfied by radically full attention to the familiar.

 It seemed to me that he was doing something inherently visionary, and critically important for ministry leaders to do as well: his ability to observe his immediate surrounding enables him to discover and express meaning in life that other miss.

The role of today’s leaders is to clarify what is already there and help people perceive what has gone unnoticed.  These are the skills needed to lead a Church Unique.

Questions to Ponder

  • How do you observe the all-too-familiar in order to discover new meaning and discern the activity of God that others miss?
  • What do you look for?
  • How can you learn to scrutinize the obvious?
  • What does it mean to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary?
  • How can you lead your church to find exponential impact through a simple and local focus?

A good place to start is simply looking…