CL2: June 2013: Food/Five Senses/Feast

Part 1: Hearing

To create is to make something that can be perceived, that gets into the brain—and the soul—through one or more of five pathways we call senses. Without our senses, we wouldn’t experience anything. We wouldn’t create anything. Our senses let us connect to the world around us.

One of the marks of expressive, creative work is how well it maximizes these pathways to make an impact on people. Our creative team has been playing with the senses to strengthen our creative muscles. We are exploring how appealing intentionally to the senses can improve our creativity.

The Pathway of Hearing

What can we discover about the pathway of hearing that can make us more creative?

Editor on Mute

Hearing may be the most difficult sense to ignore. Ears plugs help, but hearing is always on (even during sleep). And it doesn’t necessarily weed out the important sounds from the unimportant.

That could be good news. Creativity is stifled by too much editing too soon. The ears are poor editors, but they could be good explorers of possibilities. Next time you need a creative jumpstart, close your eyes and let your ears take over.

Improv and Inner Critics

Otolaryngologist Charles Limb mapped the flow of creative juices through the brains of jazz musicians. When these musicians improvise, “the brain deactivates the area involved in self-monitoring and observation, while cranking up the region linked with self-expression. So essentially, a musician shuts down his inhibitions and lets his inner voice shine through.” (Music on the Mind)

You Can’t Believe Your Eyes

When we hear sounds, our brain integrates information from our ears with what our eyes are seeing. Visual cues can actually shape what we “hear.” The McGurk Effect is a fascinating-to-watch example of how sight shapes hearing.

Paying Attention

Hearing is easy, says Seth S. Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist at Brown University and the author of The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind. “But listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload. And yet we dare not lose it. Because listening tunes our brain to the patterns of our environment faster than any other sense.” Listening is how we pay attention, and paying attention is how we feed creativity. (The Science and Art of Listening)

Now Hear This

Here’s a video of our creative team exploring the sense of hearing using food as a creative tool.

Part 2: Sight

The brain is a brilliant interpreter. When the eye transmits data, the brain instantly scans a multitude of visual assumptions it has gathered over a lifetime and makes an identification. That’s why, when you go to the supermarket for bananas, you don’t have to wait for the brain to sort out whether the item before you is a tomato, banana, or zucchini.

It’s Tricky

The brain’s efficiency can be a nuisance, however, for the artist facing a creative challenge. As you stare at your banana/challenge and ask the creative question, “What else could it be?” your brain keeps answering, “It’s a banana.”

What tool do we possess for seeing beyond the obvious? We trick our brain out of what it thinks it knows.

The Eyes of a Child

Children often aren’t as interested with what they are seeing as they are with how many different ways they can see it.

So they squint to make things blurry. Peek from between their fingers to change the boundaries of what they see. Look through one eye, then the other. Waggle their heads. Hang from a tree limb. Peer through water.

Give yourself permission to play with sight. Forget about what you need to accomplish. Forget about trying to create. Play is the path to new vision.

A Fresh View

Wouldn’t you love to know what kind of play led to these examples of creative seeing?

They inspired our creative team to invade a nearby farmer’s market for some food play of our own. Watch what happened. And then let our play inspire your play.

Part 3: Taste

Compared to hearing and sight, the science of taste is fairly simple. No rods or cones required, no delicate bones and membranes. Just a tongue loaded with receptor cells that make up our taste buds.

For many years, scientists assumed we had four basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Each taste triggers a particular receptor in our tongues. In the 20th century, a Japanese scientist isolated a fifth taste that we now call umami, the Japanese word for delicious. We most commonly taste umami in meats and tomatoes.

It’s about Flavor

Most of the time when we talk about taste, we really mean flavor. And flavor is not perceived solely by the tongue. It draws upon our senses of smell, sight, touch (texture and temperature, for example), and even hearing. If you get a bit of habañero pepper on your tongue, you’ll experience another sensation: pain. This collaboration of all the senses to create the phenomenon we call flavor is unique to our sense of taste.

Culinary Collaborators

Our creative team gathered in a roomy country kitchen to indulge in some taste-driven experimentation. That is, we cooked and ate dinner together. As the science predicted, collaboration between the senses imparted fuller flavor to our creative expression. We smelled the onions caramelizing and heard the bacon sizzling. Our eyes told us the tomatoes would be sweet. The grillmaster’s sense of touch told him when the meat was done to perfection. All this pre-tasting by the senses fed our imaginations long before any food fed our bellies.

Risky Business

Even more, collaboration held the key to fuller nourishment. The six cooks drew on one another’s energy and sense of adventure. What we might never have tried on our own, we attempted with our creative partners. We put ourselves out there with our food, much as we do with our other creative expressions, and waited a bit nervously. Would it taste good? Would anyone eat it? Would the care and creativity come out in the flavor?

Creativity, like cooking, is messy. So is collaboration. Both require surrender: of our skill, of our rules, of our best-laid plans. All that tasting and smelling and touching and…messy. Yet long after the food was gone and the kitchen cleaned, the learning remained: When the senses in your creativity tool box collaborate, something nourishing happens.

This article originally published at



Ken writes on topics like creativity, work, and productivity. Learn from his discoveries…and his mistakes.




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