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Tasting the consciousness by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

I am particularly fascinated by the way senses tickles our consciousness in a manner that makes the life on earth interesting. The way we see, hear, taste, smell and touch things around us arise in us a consciousness of a life that we cannot say for sure is whether it is real or fictional. In one of my previous articles we touched upon the way we see things. For last few weeks I am struggling with the question how do we taste things? We will look at this question from scientific, evolutionary, pantheistic, metaphysical and finally from religious point of view. It will not be an exhaustive presentation but I guess it will be enough to force you to think.

Scientifically there are 2000-4000 taste buds located on the tongue. Each taste bud has 10-50 sensory cells that are renewed every week. Scientists classified taste into five basic categories i.e. sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory (also called umami). According to scientists these tastes are sensed by the sensory cells because of a chemical reaction produced by various enzymes produced in the mouth when they interact with food. Now let’s pick up an example so that we can build our understanding through it. Imagine you are eating food that has salt in it. Salt is comprised of two basic elements Sodium (chemical symbol Na) and Chlorine (Chemical symbol Cl). Each salt molecule is comprised of one atom each of Sodium and Chlorine so its chemical formula is NaCl. As soon as the food gets in touch with your tongue you can tell there was salt in the food. What was the process through which this sensation was perceived by your consciousness? Scientists will tell you that enzymes in the mouth interacted with salt (NaCl) and the sensory cell in the taste buds on the tongue sent a signal to the brain. But this is where the simplicity ends and complexity starts. How did sensory cells differentiate between various tastes signals associated with various food items? Does the sensory cell send different signals for each taste? When the signal reached the brain how does it arrive at the consciousness of salt? Is the taste part of the molecule of Salt (NaCl) or is the taste in the enzyme that works on salt in the mouth or taste is in the consciousness once it is confirmed there is presence of salt in food? These are important questions because scientifically all taste buds can do is send a signal to the brain confirming presence and quantity of salt in the food. Sensation of taste is not their concern. It is these questions that we have to now look at from evolutionary, metaphysical and religious point of view because the understanding of science is still at a very early stage.

From the evolutionary perspective senses have a utilitarian purpose. This means that senses were evolved to protect us from harm so that we can survive. For instance sense of taste provided protection to us from eating too much salt which could be harmful. But this does not provide all the answers because there is certain artist and cultural aspect of sensation of salt with which evolution should not concern itself. Secondly how did the first sensation of salt arouse in the consciousness from not being present beforehand. In other words how does the particular sensation we feel arose when the salt first touched the taste bud. At that moment of first instance the bud just sent a signal to the brain. How the brain developed a particular sensation that had peculiar artistic and cultural aspect to it. Theory of evolution fails to provide answers to these questions.

Another challenge is consciousness of taste in other creatures based on theory of evolution. If evolution worked similarly on all creatures then the sensation of taste should be similar. The demands of each creature in terms of quantity of chemicals let’s say salt could be unique but the sensation of salt as a taste has to be same especially if it is in the essence of the compound. But science cannot suggest it with certainty because scientists still don’t know how animal sensation of taste works.

A pantheist would say that art and culture was built into the nature so during creation these were associated with the sensation of taste in the consciousness. But it still fails to provide the answer whether taste is part of the matter, enzymes that work on it or consciousness that perceives it. It also does not provide an answer to how did it arouse first time in the consciousness or came to be in the nature. This would mean that it does not provide definitive answers to the existence of taste.

Now let’s look at it from the religious perspective. Quran narrates the story of creation of Adam in many chapters. There are many symbolic messages in that story for us to ponder over. God created Adam and presented him to the angels. God asked angels to prostate before this creation. Angels wondered why. God asked Adam to start talking. Adam presented names of things that were not in the knowledge of angels. What could that knowledge be? Now imagine if that knowledge is new consciousness that is unique to men. The consciousness of sensation of salt or taste that only he can feel and express. A sensation that is unique to him. It only exists in his being. It does not exist in salt, enzyme that works on it, taste buds that send the signal to the brain but in the consciousness that is only for humans. Metaphysically it means that religion suggests that consciousness of taste is an a priori.

Praise be to the God that created us with the consciousness to understand and appreciate the world created around us.

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