Battlepanda: The Elusive Pineapple


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Elusive Pineapple

In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, John Locke asserts the impossibility of knowing the taste of pineapple before you have actually tasted it. This is not just a throwaway remark; he returns to the point in several drafts and in several places. In 1671, Locke wrote that the man who has never had pineapple, that “delicate” fruit, “in his mouth” cannot have a true or “new” idea of it. He can only have an amalgam of “old” ideas based on the descriptions of travellers. Later, he wrote that “we see nobody gets the relish of a pineapple, till he goes to the Indies, where it is, and tastes it”. To think that you could relish a pineapple without really experiencing it was like imagining you could see colours in the dark. The person who “from his childhood, never tasted an oyster, or a pineapple” does not know the particular taste of these things. And again: “let him try if any words can give him the taste of the Pine-Apple, and make him have the true idea of the Relish of that celebrated delicious Fruit”. For Locke, who had never tasted a pineapple himself, this was impossible. Only first-hand sensory experience could give knowledge of the taste – the quiddity – of pineapple.

Locke’s choice of the pineapple to make his point was not random. In a sense, the structure of his argument would have worked just as well had he chosen apples instead of pineapples. But who in England in the 1670s was not acquainted with the particular “relish” of an apple? The pineapple, by contrast, was the ultimate in inaccessible luxury fruit. Unless you were close to royalty, or a traveller to the West Indies, you were very unlikely to have been anywhere near one. Moreover, those who had tasted its yellow flesh, described it as peculiarly complex and elusive. Richard Ligon, in a history of the Caribbean, claimed that “nothing of rare taste can be thought on that is not there”. Some thought it musky. Others thought it combined all that is “most delicate in the Peach, the Strawberry, the Muscadine Grape and the Pippin”.
The question is, can a real pineapple ever taste as good as the "delicate fruit" in Locke's mind?

This reminds me of this game I used to play when I was little. I would take an orange and pretend that I lived in England in back in the days of Queen Elizabeth and the fruit I was holding in my hands was a fabulously rare and expensive import from the mediterranean. I would then proceed to eat the orange. Very slowly.

Talking about the odd, quixotic landscapes of human desire, Elaine found this revealing study:

Do you always get what you ask for? A new study finds that when you don't, you might not even notice the difference.

Swedish researchers showed a pair of female faces to 120 volunteers for 2 seconds and then asked them to choose which one they thought was more attractive. The researchers then asked the volunteers to explain their choice.

The trial was repeated 15 times for each volunteer, using different pairs of faces. but in three of the trials the faces were secretly switched after a decision had been made.

Surprisingly, not only were a large number of the volunteers oblivious to the switch when ultimately allowed to take a longer look at their choice, they were actually able to gave detailed explanations for why they preferred the face that, indeed, they had actually rejected.

It would be asking for an apple and then explaining exactly why you wanted the banana you got instead.

'She's radiant'

The researchers call the phenomenon "choice blindness."

Don't just beware of what you choose. Keep an eye on it.