Distinguished Speaker 13 - Charles Spence

Gastrophysics: The New Sciences of the Table

Public Lecture in English
October 16, 2015 from 6-8pm

What is the perfect meal? We can probably all think of at least one especially memorable dinner. For some, it might be something as simple as a picnic in a meadow or fish & chips by the seaside. For others, it will be that once in a lifetime trip to one of the world’s top Michelin-starred restaurants. Wherever it was, what made it so special wasn’t just the food. In this talk, I will argue that what makes for a great eating experience depends far more on the ‘everything else’ that surrounds the meal than many of us realize: It depends on everything from the mood we are in through to the company we keep, and from the sensory environment in which we eat and imbibe through to the plating, plateware, and cutlery. I will review the emerging body of gastrophysics research that is helping to isolate just how important these various factors are to our perception and enjoyment of food. I will discuss some of the most exciting recent examples of the dynamic collaborations between chefs, designers, and sensory scientists that have generated the plethora of immersive, experiential (possibly experimental), and most definitely multisensory, dining experiences now on offer. Finally, I will show how the search for the perfect meal can lead to interventions that may potentially help (in some small way) to tackle the growing obesity crisis, not to mention providing some intriguing ideas about how to get us all to shift to a rather more sustainable insect-based diet in the decades ahead.

The lecture will be accompanied by the presentation of certain unusual gustibles for the audience to sample.

“Once at least in the life of every human, whether he be brute or trembling daffodil, comes a moment of complete gastronomic satisfaction. It is, I am sure, as much a matter of spirit as of body. Everything is right; nothing jars. There is a kind of harmony, with every sensation and emotion melted into one chord of well-being.”

– M.F.K. Fisher, “The Pale Yellow Glove”

1515 Sainte-Catherine West
York Amphitheatre
EV 1.605/1.615

Neuroscience-Inspired Multisensory Design

Public Seminar in English
Friday, October 16, 2015, from 1-2:30pm

In this seminar presentation, I want to highlight the exciting new field of research that goes by the name of neuroscience-inspired multisensory design. This approach to design is built on the latest insights emerging from the field of cognitive neuroscience concerning the multisensory nature of human perception. That research is increasingly showing just how interconnected our senses really are. What this means, in practice, is that changing what something looks like can change what it feels like; it can also help to explain why adding a certain fragrance to a piece of clothing can make it appear whiter, or seem softer.

After summarizing some of the surprising ways in which the senses interact, I will go on to illustrate with a number of case studies how the neuroscience-inspired approach to design can, and in some cases already is, being used to improve the design of everything from the food we eat to the environments in which we live. I will go on to summarize some studies carried out at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory in Oxford concerning the multisensory approach to fashion design, detailing work on enhancing the appeal of Augmented Reality clothing displays. I will also summarize the results of the Lab’s research into how changing the sound of items from fabrics to high heels can dramatically change our experience of what we are wearing/evaluating. I will conclude by surveying some recent trends in the multisensory approach to the design of public space from retail to restaurant.

Concordia University
1515 Sainte-Catherine West
EV 11.705

Crossmodal Correspondences and the Aesthetic Imagination

Public Seminar in English
Saturday, October 17, 2015, from 11:00-12:30

“Are lemons fast or slow?”; “Is carbonated water round or angular?”; Most people agree on their answers to these questions. These are examples of correspondences, that is, the tendency for a feature in one sensory modality, either physically present or merely imagined, to be matched (or associated) with a feature, either physically present or merely imagined, in another modality. Crossmodal correspondences appear to exist between all pairings of senses, and have been shown to affect everything from people’s speeded responses to their performance in unspeeded psychophysical tasks. While some correspondences are culture-specific (e.g., the correspondence between angularity and bitterness), others are likely to be universal (e.g., the correspondence between auditory pitch and visual or haptic size). Intriguingly, some animals, such as chimpanzees, as well as young infants, appear to be especially sensitive to certain crossmodal correspondences. In this talk, I will discuss a number of the explanations that have been put forward to account for the existence of crossmodal correspondences. I will also examine the relationship between crossmodal correspondences and sound symbolism, and tackle the thorny question of whether crossmodal correspondences should be thought of as a kind of synaesthesia that is common to us all. Finally, I will invite the audience to ponder the implications of this experimental research for our understanding of synaesthesia in the arts (e.g. Baudelaire’s poem “Correspondences,” or the paintings of Francis Bacon, Wassily Kandinsky, or possibly even those of Arthur Dove).

Concordia University
1515 Sainte Catherine West
EV 11.705


Professor Charles Spence heads Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory. His interests lie in trying to apply the latest insights concerning the multisensory nature of human perception to the real world, in everything from the design of food and packaging, to car warning signals and handheld technologies. He has worked with a number of the world’s top chefs, including Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck) and Ferran Adriá’s research kitchen at Rosales, Spain. Currently he is collaborating with the next generation of modernist chefs, with molecular mixologists, chocolatiers, culinary artists, designers, and composers on multisensory experience design.

Much of Prof. Spence’s research lies at the interface of modernist cuisine and commercial food and beverage design. Over the years, he has worked with many of the world’s largest food and beverage companies/brands, including PepsiCo, Unilever, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Twinings, Molson Coors, Unilever, Mars, and Neal’s Yard Dairy.

Prof. Spence is an expert in the field of multisensory perception and neuroscience-inspired design. Over the last decade, he has published more than 600 articles as well as authoring and editing 8 books, including the The perfect meal, together with Betina Piqueras-Fiszman in 2014. He directs the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University’s Department of Experimental Psychology, and has been awarded a number of national and international prizes for his research. Prof. Spence is a passionate advocate of the application of the latest insights from experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience to the design of better-tasting, more stimulating, more memorable, and healthier food and drink experiences – an approach that comes under the banner of gastrophysics.

Event curated by David Howes, Director of the Centre for Sensory Studies



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