January 26, 2019

Food for Thought

My childhood memories of chawanmushi are not good. I didn’t hate it but if I had known the American English expression “blah” back then, I would have picked it before any Japanese words because the sound of “blah” seems to describe the texture of it as well as how I felt about it.

There are many aesthetic experiences where we can appreciate them conceptually but not personally. For instance, I can appreciate the musical substance and the historical significance of Maurice Ravel, but the floweriness of his music somehow annoys me. That’s not Ravel’s fault.

This afternoon, after eating this chawanmushi pictured, I had to think about how this occurs, and this is what I came up with:

Imagine that there is a sensor, like the light sensor in your digital camera, in your brain that senses artistic inputs. Unfortunately, this sensor is not perfect. There could be manufacturing defects in some spots. You may have collected dust or smudges. It may have grown mold on some spots.

But, in most cases, we wouldn’t notice because each artistic experience would cover many areas of the sensor just as most photographic images would light up many different areas of the camera sensor. Even if we are not able to perceive some spots of the artistic experience, we would still be excited enough about the rest.

But what if there is an artistic experience that hits only the areas where your sensors are not working? The result, I think, would be “blah.” But the cognitive part of our brains would still be able to conceptually appreciate it because it’s an entirely different method of processing our sensory data.

Chawanmushi, I think, happens to hit ONLY the dysfunctional spots on my sensor.

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