Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Listen guys: Baking is not a science. Cuisine is not a science. Deal w/ it.

at 6:30 PM
Okay I know yer all out there throwin' yer arms in the air screamin' atcher monitors yellin' "GET BACK TO FUCKIN' VIDEO GAMES ALREADY" but I had to overhear a conversation at work today about how "baking is a science because it is precise and requires measurements and precision". This is my blog where I get to vent about things that I am too polite to say in places where I get paid to be civil, but measurements and precision != science. Frankly I don't even think coding is a science (surely if you'd seen some of the code I've seen, you'd agree with me). Music is extremely measured - Beethoven couldn't even fucking hear and he was composing. Painting is measured. There are many recipes to make great film and video games - if you're okay with making the exact same film or video game as someone else. The fact that something can be reproduced does not make it a science. I don't even have to define the term "science" to get us that far.

The main difference between cooking and other arts is that we eat the product of cooking. I've tried to eat "Livin' Lovin' Maid" dozens of times, but unfortunately it comes back up every time. Anyway, cuisine is created and summarily demolished, beautifully transient, so it's important for any idiot to be able to replicate a work. Naturally, the art form has developed around concocting recipes rather than around the crafting of individual pieces (TV pastry chefs in recent years have sorta turned that on its head, not that I would call their work "cuisine"). By comparison, we no longer have to perform a song to listen to it, so we don't think about the details of how it was performed or the distinction between composition and recitation. On an 8-track tape, improv jazz makes the same aural impression as heavily rehearsed orchestral symphonies. Likewise, except in extreme cases like the work of Jackson Pollock or Georges Seurat, the methodology of a painter doesn't overtly occur to us. So it's actually a bit weird that anyone would bother to distinguish baking from regular cooking, especially so far as to call one an art and the other a science, because they're the exact same medium - they both produce food. It's really recipe construction that's the art form, in the same sense that you could say musical composition (including improvisation, you retarded jazz idiots) is the art form. Music just has a much better recording format. 

Science is dedicated to uncovering objective truths. You can argue about objectivity all you want, but I'm not getting into that philosophical debate here. Feel free to look up qualifiers like universal, testable, and reproducible. Next time you discover an objective universal truth of natural law while fixing up a batch of brownies, you phone me up first thing. You could say that you discovered "the best way to make brownies", and even make that a somewhat objective truth by qualifying it as "the best way to make brownies to my tastes", but, uh, how is that any different from art? That's subjectivity, my friend. Unless you're ready to assert that taste is objective (or at the very least, more objective than musical or visual preference), the process of devising a recipe cannot lead to universal truths. It's a subjective process with a subjective result. 

As for executing a recipe... I don't feel like that's really art, or science, or anything. That's just following instructions. That's the equivalent of playing from a songbook or doing a Paint-By-Numbers. Nothing wrong with it, and you're damn right it often takes skill, but of course putting certain ingredients together under certain conditions will always produce the same dish, the same way playing certain notes in the same sequence with the same timing will always produce the same song. That's not science, that's, um... determinism. 

Certainly I realize that yes! indeed! cooking employs scientific principles! Alton Brown told me that sugar molecules break down into lazer beams at temperatures above a million degrees! If that's enough to classify a medium as science for you, cool, everything ever is science. Which is a great mantra - after all, everything is governed by natural law - but I don't think it's a very precise use of the word. It's ignoring the distinction between the culture of art and science, that artists stimulate our creativity, emotion, and humanity, manipulating our existing knowledge in unique ways - they expand how we perceive, while scientists seek to redefine our knowledge and understanding of the world - they expand what we perceive. Perhaps they often use the same experimental methodology, perhaps at some level there is no way to distinguish "objective" and "subjective" results (as everything is inevitably victim to our personal perception - you psychotic solipsists, you!), but for me personally, there is a massive difference in mindset and expected return between inventing cheesecake and writing an AI algorithm to reveal traversal patterns in JRPG dungeons. 

Thing is, I like to bake (and to cook in general, but specifically to bake) and when said tidbit inevitably comes up in conversation the reaction is always "oh that makes perfect sense, you're, like, a science guy!" Well, no, guy. I like cooking because it's a form of artistic expression and I like baking because I'm obsessive compulsive and feel the need to clean up messes as I go, and that's really hard to do when you have to deal with the strict threat of burning that comes with sauteed wok-fu, so baking is a more appropriate outlet for my deficiencies. Think of baking as tactical turn-based role-playing cooking. Plus I like sweets.

Anyway, I guess I'm not saying that cooking isn't a science - even though the title does say that, for drama's sake. I'm just saying that none of the arguments listed above "prove" that it's a science, for me it certainly isn't one, and, moreover, I'm illustrating that the scientific movement isn't about numbers and measurements and experiments. It's about discovery. As Indiana Jones once said: whether anything feels like an art or a science, or what art and science are, or whatever, is up to your own special little heart. 

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