Episode 594: The Wasabi Conjecture

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we investigate the nature of good…spices, asking “do we like spices because they’re good, or are they good because we like them?”

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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather try to answer a question about the nature of the good, untangle necessary vs contingent phenomenon, and figure out what even is Overthinking It, vis-a-vis a discussion of cumin.

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One Comment on “Episode 594: The Wasabi Conjecture”

  1. John C Member #

    I was going to hit on exactly the same suspicion of pseudoscience evolution that Matt took at the end. So often, those explanations used to explain things that clearly aren’t scientific (for example, the idea that human gender roles come from millions of years of evolution when they actually vary wildly from culture to culture), but also because it’s an answer that dismisses not only the question (“it just happens”), but dismisses human agency of liking things in general.
    And yeah, the fact that we don’t go around licking random trees very clearly shows that a spice is a spice because we like the flavor, rather than because there’s some prescriptive category. Similarly, herbs like cilantro stymie an evolutionary angle, since there are people who only get a soapy taste out of it. In parallel, we can trace a lot of our opinions on cars to the post-War “mass individual freedom” marketing campaigns, the race/chase fitting squarely into those narratives and not “the Modern Moloch” that people worried cars might be in the 1920s, and we were raised in human cultures and not in a tower deriving our personalities from first principles.
    For the Hero’s Journey, one thing I’d point out is that it’s a really easy story to tell. It’s riches-to-rags-to-different-riches and the hero ends where he started. Decide on the nature of the underworld (invading the afterlife, visiting family for the holidays, shopping for shoes on the Internet, whatever) and the story structure does a lot of the plotting for you. And by the same token, it’s also easy to impose those twenty-ish story beats anywhere, with some mild creativity. For example, Wikipedia’s entry on the Hero’s Journey analogizes Frodo’s rescue by the eagles to Sherlock Holmes making it home for the story’s epilogue.
    I’ll go one better on answering the “shouldn’t you be doing something more important” question, though: “Shouldn’t YOU?” Because if it’s a waste of time to do something entertaining, then surely it’s a waste to consume that entertainment and then complain that it exists…


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