April 6, 2017

"Drinking wine engages more of the brain than 'any other human behaviour', according to one leading neuroscientist."

"Professor Gordon Shepherd, from the Yale School of Medicine, said drinking wine sparks a reaction in both the sensory and emotional parts of the brain."
Professor Shepherd claims that taste is merely an illusion, created by how our senses and emotions surrounding food and drink combine in the brain.... "The taste is not in the wine; the taste is created by the brain of the wine taster."
Notice that it's the process of tasting/smelling that gives the brain a "workout." So I guess this doesn't apply to people with anosmia. And now I'm worried that anosmia impoverishes not only the immediate sensory experience but also the functioning of the brain. Perhaps those who have lost most of our sense of smell ought to apply mental effort to create a perception of taste... even if it doesn't work, but just to engage mental functioning. And yet, do we know that it's good for the brain to busy it with manifold tasks? I really don't know. I'll bet most people who read this article are just enjoying the encouragement to view wine drinking as beneficial.

55 comments:

Michael K said...

Vodka goes well with anosmia.

Leave the good wine for us smellers.

madAsHell said...

Not after the fourth glass!

Brando said...

Sounds a lot like BS, but I didn't need an excuse to drink wine and beer and whiskey.

Meade said...

Not all "workouts" are beneficial.

Inga said...

I bet this works with chocolate too.

Meade said...

"Vodka goes well with anosmia."

An ounce of vodka ethanol will give your brain the exact same "workout" as an ounce of wine ethanol.

Francisco D said...

Wine is God's way of telling us he loves us and wants us to be happy!

- Ben Franklin (Paraphrased: He said that about beer, but I am a red wine drinker)

Jake said...

"I'll bet most people who read this article are just enjoying the encouragement to view wine drinking as beneficial."

Precisely what I did this morning. I even thought that, a nice, complex Rye Whiskey or Scotch must surely also challenge my mind. I've already made plans for an evening workout.

Andrew said...

Wine without a meal puts me to sleep.

Michael K said...

"An ounce of vodka ethanol will give your brain the exact same "workout" as an ounce of wine ethanol."

Exactly, so leave the good wine for those of us who can smell.

Red wine is also good for your heart. As I am very interested in my heart, I act accordingly.

White wine is good for warming up for red.

Inga said...

Wine gives me a migraine. Red, being the worst.

Rosa Marie Yoder said...

Begin the day with coffee.

End the day with wine.

It's my formula for a happy life!

Paul Zrimsek said...

It's something we do and the proles mostly don't, so it probably explains why we're so much better than they are.

Livermoron said...

Inga: stop drinking after one bottle. maybe share your booze with one of your many daughters.

Ann: Anosmia is closely linked to Alzheimer's/dementia. I hope that you get yourself evaluated on a regular basis.

Ann Althouse said...

"Exactly, so leave the good wine for those of us who can smell."

Bad wine is even worse when you have impaired smell. Smell masks or overwhelms a lot of things that the taste buds pick up. Strip away most of that smell and you get a different mix of smell/taste. If you don't know what the impairment is like, you won't know the value of the remaining sense to someone like me. To say the good wine is not for you is like telling a color-blind person not to go to the art museum. There is something left to be perceived, and there's no way to get to a higher level of perception. Why should you further impoverish your experience?

Inga said...

I won't drink even a glass. The migraine happens after about an hour after drinking one glass.

However, my 12 daughters make wine, they grow their grapes, put them in the huge wooden vat, hike up their skirts to reveal their shapely legs and thighs, they smash the grapes. 🍇Then they sell the wine to tourists that come visit our island in the Mediterranean. Then it's perfectly aged. We sell no wine before it's time.🍷

Quaestor said...

Drinking wine engages more of the brain than 'any other human behavior'...

Sounds like some bullshit to me.

Neuroscience is one of those immature areas of study that is as much philosophy as science. It's not a totally fake science, such as any of the so-called social sciences, nor is it just a convention intended to lend an air of intellectual dignity to the mindless officiousness known as library science. There's discipline there, just not much of it. The only reason Professor Shephard won't be called on the carpet or ridiculed at the next Society for Neuroscience conference is that everyone else in the field is bullshitting as well.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann: Anosmia is closely linked to Alzheimer's/dementia. I hope that you get yourself evaluated on a regular basis."

I got my whole brain MRI'd. I'm fine... other than I don't have a diagnosis, just a symptom.

Jess said...

It's just like engaging the clutch on a car. Engaging is critical, but having an intoxicated driver leads to dangerous situations.

clint said...

I would love to know how they gathered data on how much of the brain is engaged in every single "other human behavior".

I can think of quite a few other activities that spark "a reaction in both the sensory and emotional parts" of my brain.

Sebastian said...

"And now I'm worried that anosmia impoverishes not only the immediate sensory experience but also the functioning of the brain." It does, but you have done a good job compensating for it.

David said...

Inga: "my 12 daughters make wine,"

So you are a Disney character? Explains some things.

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

What got me about that story was I've seen numerous times that music, particularly music making, lights up more parts of the brain simultaneously than any other activity - and being a music therapist I want to believe that - and one of the things music does is excite mirror neurons - like the way you feel how the strokes of a tennis player you're watching are being made, you sort of feel the gestures used to make the music (even if you can't see the player) - and I don't see wine doing that.

Livermoron said...

Ann: Very glad to hear that. I was going to get my whole brain MRI's but they didn't have a machine big enough to do it. ;)

Inga: I actually do grow my own grapes and make my own wine (not exclusively. So, let me give you some free advice - take an allergy pill before drinking. While most people in your situation blame sulfites, it is actually the histamines that cause the problems.

Not that I don't want you to suffer.

Quaestor said...

"The taste is not in the wine; the taste is created by the brain of the wine taster."

That's 18th century phenomenalism. Bishop Berkeley would approve.

The fact that forms of life that are very remotely related perceive the outside world in a remarkably similar manner argues in favor of Thomas Reid's notion of common sense. Take for example studies of perception in cephalopods. The last common ancestor of humans and octopuses was probably some kind of wormlike creature with eye spots that lived as many as 750 million years ago. Nevertheless, every test of visual perception done so far has shown that the octopus sees the world much as we do, which implies reality is out there and not just in our minds.

Since Shephard is mainly doing philosophy he really ought bone up on it

Inga said...

"So you are a Disney character?"

No, I'm the crazy cat lady. The Simpsons.

Rumpletweezer said...

I lose some of the pleasure of drinking wine by people telling me it's good for me.

Livermoron said...

But Quaestor, what if you drink the wine in a cave with your back to entrance?

Michael K said...

"Why should you further impoverish your experience?"

I don;t want to impoverish your experience.

I just want the good wine.

Two buck chuck for the peasants. Except I think it's now three bucks.

Quaestor said...

Quaestor is a skeptic, but one of the kind David Hume would approve of. Reality is out there, and our senses do a reasonable job of communicating a least a subset of reality to our brains allowing the construction of a reasonably accurate model of reality. If this wasn't true our species would have gone extinct long ago by walking over cliffs.

Same thing goes for taste. Bees visits flowers because the flower produces sweet nectar as an enticement. Humans also like nectar for the same reason the bees do. The taste is out there whether we find the taste pleasant is biological, it's not just a brain thing. We humans share genes with the bees, among them are genes that make us able to taste sugars. Alcohols are similar enough to sugars that the same genes allow us to taste them as well with a similar experience of sweetness.

Wine is a bit different because of social factors. People whose taste experience regarding wine is simply "that's nice" or "that one's too bitter" are considered unsophisticated, boorish, stupid, Republican... while those who pretend to taste chocolate, raspberries, and autumnal mists in their wine are considered wise, well-educated, and progressive. For example, This is a beautifully crafted wine steeped in burly, succulent black cherry and licorice flavors. Soft, firm tannins enwrap its full-bodied lushness with undeniable structure, accented with stony gravel and sanguine undertones. That's an actual description of a California cabernet sauvignon published by Wine Enthusiast. Blood and rocks... right. The person who wrote that voted for Hillary, of that I'm dead certain. Doubt me? Name any odds you want; you're on.

Quaestor said...

But Quaestor, what if you drink the wine in a cave with your back to [the] entrance?

I'm not certain whether flavor casts a shadow.

rehajm said...

Soft, firm tannins enwrap its full-bodied lushness with undeniable structure, accented with stony gravel and sanguine undertones. That's an actual description of a California cabernet sauvignon published by Wine Enthusiast. Blood and rocks... right. The person who wrote that voted for Hillary, of that I'm dead certain. Doubt me? Name any odds you want; you're on.

You're probably right but I'm certain I didn't vote for Hillary and will admit to talking like this about wine on occasion during WSET tests.

rehajm said...

"The taste is not in the wine; the taste is created by the brain of the wine taster."

So are sights and sounds and touches. Brilliant discovery, Magellan.

Fernandinande said...

"Drinking wine engages more of the brain than 'any other human behaviour',

I doubt it.

In his experiments, he claims to have found evidence that drinking wine engages more of the brain than enjoying music or even solving a challenging maths equation.

Doing math doesn't use much of the brain, but -

"Listening to music lights up the whole brain"

"Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain," says John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"the taste is created by the brain of the wine taster."
The sight is created by the brain of the wine viewer.
The touch is created by the brain of the wine toucher.
The smell is created by the brain of the wine smeller.*
The sound is created by the brain of the wine listener.

*I bet there's a fancy word for "wine smeller".

Dust Bunny Queen said...

My husband lost his sense of smell for a while. It was due to swelling of the sinus area from a lingering infection, that caused no pain. The nerves in that area were damaged, pinched, starved...or something. He was told that they may recover or that other nerves may take over the process.

All he had was memories of what things were supposed to taste and smell like. Of course they didn't have taste or much taste. It made eating a not very pleasurable experience. When all you can do is 'remember' what a steak or an orange should taste like it takes away the enjoyment.

The Doctor told him to try to refresh the brain by doing some daily exercises. We put strong smelling items in little jars where he couldn't see what they are. Garlic. Lemon. Vinegar. Molasses. Anchovies. Onions. Vanilla. Mustard. Then he was to sniff deeply and guess what they were. Once he was able to get those smells in the jars back to move onto more subtle...less stinky....items. It was very frustrating for him! Gradually, he regained much of his sense of smell. Not all, though. And it still isn't all that great but at least some has returned.

Just anecdotal.

Fernandinande said...

People judge the taste of a wine mostly by its price and the label on the bottle.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Added....as a plumber, the loss of the ability to smell bad odors was actually somewhat of a blessing.

:-)

Quaestor said...

So are sights and sounds and touches. Brilliant discovery, Magellan.

A-ha! A phenomenological idealist! No wonder you talk nonsense about wine.

Quaestor said...

An ounce of vodka ethanol will give your brain the exact same "workout" as an ounce of wine ethanol.

Add a little anise, a smidgen of fennel, and a hint of wormwood and your brain will not only get a "workout", it'll run a marathon.

Quaestor said...

People judge the taste of a wine mostly by its price and the label on the bottle.

Yup. The steeper the price the more grandiloquent the praise.

Quaestor said...

Althouse has awakened an ancient debate. However, Professor Shephard and rehajm should surrender now. We materialists have SCIENCE! on our side.

gspencer said...

I dunno about this guy's theory. After seeing more than my share of park bench Ripple drinkers, none of them never seemed to have their brains "engaged."

But Richard's Wild Irish Rose seemed to have another effect altogether.

Michael K said...

"People judge the taste of a wine mostly by its price and the label on the bottle."

The administrator of the hospital once took four of us out to lunch to celebrate the renewal of the trauma center designation.

He made the mistake of giving me the wine list.

The restaurant had a grand cru Montrachet on the list and I ordered it. It was terrific. Especially as someone else was paying.

Etienne said...

Alcohol is no good for the liver or the brain. So I guess maybe wine without alcohol, i.e., non-fermented juice, or even vinegar would be better?

Yancey Ward said...

I am going to just call this story horseshit.

Rt1 Rebel said...

I got most of the way through Inga's 12 daughters post before I realized it wasn't a Laslo post.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I'll bet most people who read this article are just enjoying the encouragement to view wine drinking as beneficial.

I feel as though wine is getting out of hand. Everyone jokes about "mommy's juice;" people talk about it as though they can't get through their day without it. I'm so sick of hearing about it and so sick of people who think that any kind of chemical dependence like that is healthy.

Alex said...

For anyone that's ever watched Horst Luening's whiskey reviews on Whiskey.com's Youtube channel, it's clear that whiskey is the most challenging drink of all. I never knew there could be so many ingredients in a spirit. Also they're layered so they hit you not all at once if done properly.

Personally I'm finishing up a Johnnie Walker Green Label that I bought in 2014. Very smooth.

Alex said...

... "Mother's Little Helper"... they knew back in 1960s Britain!

traditionalguy said...

Old Vine Red Zinfandel can cause a PhD level of mouth watering appetizers taste.

Scott M said...

"Drinking wine engages more of the brain than 'any other human behaviour', according to one leading neuroscientist who just happens to have a stock portfolio that's vineyard-heavy

whswhs said...

Has he compared it with sex? Sexual activity seems to me to encompass both sensory and emotional functions, not to mention physical activity.

walter said...

Wine: It's all in your head.

walter said...

So..wine appreciation classes should train people how to enjoy cheap wine.

Bricap said...

Thanks for posting this, Professor. Fascinating article.

I think perception of the wine can come from a few different things. Many of us have our own biases, such as where it's from, how it's made, age of the wine, you name it. Sometimes a compelling story adds another dimension to the wine. The experience of a new grape or a new region adds something for me, also. And if I got a great deal on the bottle in question, the feeling of getting away with something adds yet another dimension to the experience, similar to what Michael suggested when he got the ultimate experience a Grand Cru Montrachet on someone else's dime. Right now I'm drinking a 5th Growth Bordeaux that I got on clearance for $15. It's great at that price. If I paid the usual price of $40, meh. I'd probably be bored if that happened. I'd be expecting so much more and I'd be set up for disappointment.

And one can't forget what gets added if it's a special occasion. There's no doubt in my mind that Paul Giamatti would have enjoyed that '61 Cheval Blanc infinitely more with Virginia Madsen than he did drinking it furtively in a styrofoam cup at a fast food restaurant while deep in the throes of a depression.