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A study of the science of taste: On the origins and influence of the core ideas

  • Robert P. Erickson (a1)

Our understanding of the sense of taste is largely based on research designed and interpreted in terms of the traditional four “basic” tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, and now a few more. This concept of basic tastes has no rational definition to test, and thus it has not been tested. As a demonstration, a preliminary attempt to test one common but arbitrary psychophysical definition of basic tastes is included in this article; that the basic tastes are unique in being able to account for other tastes. This definition was falsified in that other stimuli do about as well as the basic words and stimuli. To the extent that this finding might show analogies with other studies of receptor, neural, and psychophysical phenomena, the validity of the century-long literature of the science of taste based on a few “basics” is called into question. The possible origins, meaning, and influence of this concept are discussed. Tests of the model with control studies are suggested in all areas of taste related to basic tastes. As a stronger alternative to the basic tradition, the advantages of the across-fiber pattern model are discussed; it is based on a rational data-based hypothesis, and has survived attempts at falsification. Such “population coding” has found broad acceptance in many neural systems.

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