No Pranablem 1: Can You Think In Taste?

In the beginning

Welcome to my first email of my first newsletter! It’s been a couple months since initially announcing the idea, and in that time my intention for this newsletter has shifted a bit. I initially wanted this to be more of a private “pranab’s inner circle” kinda thing, but I now want this to be more of a public representation of my thinking.

My 3 main principles for writing this are:

  1. Shifting more of my time from consumption -> creation

  2. Learning in public to build a second brain of ideas and signal to others interested in the same stuff

  3. Helping educate, bring insight, or at least give a pity laugh to all my readers

You can read more here. Thanks for joining me on this journey and please like / subscribe / comment / share if you feel it!

Yes I know this meme is like 4 years old

PS - if you want to unsubscribe, I’ll only shed 3 tears and everything is impermanent anyway so no hard feelings.

Hope you enjoy the ~5 min read below about sensory experience and memory!

Can you think in taste?

You know consciousness? The thing that separates us from rocks (or not!?). It's with us in every waking moment, from awake to sleep and birth to death. It's the mold that defines each of our existences. It is paradoxically both blatantly obvious and incredibly mysterious.

And I was today years old when yet again my mind was blown learning about it!!

Instagram poll featuring a cajun fry from the legendary Gossip Shack 2

Some context:

In my meditation sessions, I observe phenomena coming from each of my senses as they arise. There are of course the 5 obvious senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch). Those are all external, the things we interact with in the physical(ish) world.

When we close our eyes, phenomena still arise from the internal senses of the mind. Those internal senses are what drive experience when we visualize, dream, and remember things.

After meditating for a bit, I realized that I don't remember internal taste, smell, or touch like I do for sight and sound!

Thinking about this on a scale from 1 to 4:

  1. You can perfectly recreate an experience from memory. You can fully see the view from the top of Mt Bonnell, hear the 808s blasting from a Kanye concert, or literally taste & feel on your tongue the chewy tapioca from a cool Boba Guys HK Milk Tea (50% sugar, 0 ice fyi).

  2. Things are in lower resolution. You can see the view driving down PCH to Big Sur, but it's not as bright and maybe a little grainy. You can hear Andy Puddicombe's silky smooth British voice telling you to move your attention back to the breath - but it's not quite the same.

  3. You remember the experience in that you can describe the qualities of the experience, but you actually can't re-experience the original phenomena. You remember that Detroit style pizza from last week was soft and cheesy, but you can't actually simulate the experience of it in your mouth (even if it does make your mouth water). You remember how painful stubbing your toe was, yet you're not in pain (though you may wince).

  4. You literally don't have memory about what an experience is like in respect to a sense gate. Every time you experience that thing, it's like you're experiencing it for the first time! 

I'm at a 1 or 2 for sight & sound and a 3 for taste, smell, and touch. I talked to my ex girlfriend about this a couple years ago and she also had similar experiences - so that was that! Case closed, and a cool insight we both hadn't thought about before.

But apparently not!!

I recently had a conversation with my friend Alison and this topic came up. She's at a 1 or 2 for all her senses! I took it to instagram and found out that 26 were like Alison while 16 closer to me (with just a 15% margin of error!)

Ok on a side note, statistics is super weird. I spent about 10 minutes googling around for "statistical significance polling results" and couldn't really grok the base concepts. I have enough stats knowledge to be an A/B testing monkey, but I think I need a better foundational baseline. HMU if you have tips. I'm looking into learning here:

My mind is blown! 

1. I didn't realize people could actually do this

2. I didn't realize I was in the damn minority! 

After looking into it a bit, I learned that there actually is some scientific research around this stuff. There are these disorders called "phantosmia" and "phantom pain". Phantom pain is where you amputees actually feel pain or general sensation around limbs that don't exist. Phantosmia similarly is where you smell things that don't exist. Sounds like rank 1 memory to me!

Those help validate the upper end of the spectrum in addition to anecdotal subjective experience. And at the bottom end of the spectrum?

There's apparently a thing called Aphantasia - a researched condition where people can’t imagine mental images. Basically "level 4" of that arbitrary mental model I made up earlier. Check out the image below from AphantasiaMeow that illustrates the phenomena and the levels. Also, the ability to project images in reality is apparently called Prophantasia!

The interesting thing about AphantasiaMeow is that he's been able to train his sister who has the condition out of it. The scientific literature on recovery and the phenomena itself is actually pretty new, and there's a growing reddit community of people discussing the topic.

This describes sight, but what about the other senses? I couldn't find an Aphantasia equivalent for the other senses, but considering my own experience, my IG poll, and this reddit post, I think we have hints that there must be SOMETHING to it.

In all, it's just crazy to me how much more there is for science to understand about consciousness and for us individually to explore about our own experience of consciousness. Would love to hear your comments on this!

PS - Asking “can you think in taste” and proceeding to explain this article is a FANTASTIC conversation starter/filtering mechanism to see if someone is cool or nah. 10/10 would recommend.

Thanks for reading! In the future I’ll probably share some links on what I’ve been learning about in the last week.

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