Spice market, Goa. Attrib: Sara Marlowe, CC BY 2.0.
I saw a restaurant called The True Taste, and I thought, well, okay, what is the true taste? So I went inside and looked at the menu, which had several sections. They were labeled “Brown Sugars,” “Honeys,” “Molasses” and “Artificials.” I thought this was really weird, and I went over to the waiter and I said, “What’s going on? Don’t you guys serve food?” The waiter was actually the owner of the restaurant as well, and he explained to me that this was a tasting bar for sweeteners. He said that he had no background in the food industry, he’d never worked in a restaurant, but he was a Ph.D. biologist who worked on chemical sensing.
In his research he had discovered that, of all the five taste receptors, when people experience sweet taste, they get the biggest hit of dopamine. And that told him that sweetness is the true taste, the one that we most crave. And he thought that it would be most efficient to have a restaurant that just focuses on that receptor, that will maximize the units of pleasure per calorie. So he opened the restaurant.
I asked him, “Well, okay, how’s business going?” And he said, “Terrible. But at least I’m doing better than the chemist down the street, who opened a salt-tasting bar.”
Jonathan Haidt. Attrib: Miller Center of Public Affairs, CC BY 2.0.
This joke was part of the opening remarks by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, at a recent Edge conference on the New Science of Morality.
I enjoyed the humor because it came across as a self-deprecating allusion to the single-mindedness of scientific research. The joke is also typical of scientific humor: perhaps wry, no gut-buster, but requiring a reasonable feel for the science involved.