Wine Psychology: How to make your wine taste better than it really does

It’s Friday and I’m a scientist, so I thought I’d share another interesting Science Friday podcast I heard recently about the psychology behind wine. It focuses on the ritualistic nature of drinking wine and how it just seems more special than drinking other drinks.

Specifically, there’s more of a process to it, from tasting a bottle at a restaurant before passing it around the table to allowing a red to breathe before drinking it. There’s just something about wine that encourages you to take a little more time to appreciate what you’re drinking.

(I should say that wine is not unique in this anymore, although it arguably has the longest history of this kind of ritualistic treatment of any beverage I know of. My roommate recently introduced me to the concept of “Third Wave coffee,” which has much the same sense of respect for the process of making and imbibing in coffee as is more commonly done with wine.)

Thanks to the additional pomp, it’s possible to take advantage of psychology to trick your guests (and maybe yourself) into believing your wine tastes better than it does. Here are some tips recommended in the Science Friday show.

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Science is not in the business of certainty

I first heard this phrasing at the American Geophysics Union Fall Meeting last December. I was reminded of it recently when reading The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman.

Science is not in the business of certainty. Many people consider the purpose of science to be the pursuit of “Truth”. Or an effort to understand how the universe works. Both of these things suggest that there is a deterministic answer to the questions science asks. That’s just not true in most cases.

In reality, certainty is not the goal. Consider the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, for example. It’s a fundamental concept of Quantum Mechanics that you’ve probably heard about. Basically, the more we know about the position of a particle, the less we can know about the momentum (or velocity) of the particle. There’s an inherent uncertainty in the system such that even if we go looking for the answer, we’ll never be able to pin down both the position and the momentum of the particle at the same time. This is a prime example of the inherent role of uncertainty in science.

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10 Years of International Travel

For the first time in my young life, it’s time to renew my passport. Hard to believe it’s been that long. In one sense,  it’s a reminder of how times have changed. 10 years ago wasn’t the first time I travelled outside the U.S., but back in those days you didn’t need anything at all to go from the U.S. to Canada as a kid in the backseat. All the same, it’s fun to think that 10 years ago was the first time I travelled overseas to a new country.

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After so many years of safeguarding my passport, it’s weird to be dropping it in the mail and hoping for the best to get a renewal. But I won’t complain about the relatively simple process. I’m realizing for the first time just how expensive passports are, though. There are a lot of reasons why only 46% of Americans have a passport, but the cost is a valid one for many. At $165 for a new passport and $140 for a renewal, I can see why even those Americans living along our borders may not have gotten around to that quick jaunt to Mexico or Canada.

At the very least the process is relatively painless. Renewals can be done through the mail and passport photos are available at a lot of post offices and pharmacies these days. This may be the end of a chapter, but I’m looking forward to beating my current record of 6 international visits per 10 years next time around.

Why is the night sky dark? A science lesson.

Why is the sky blue? Why does water evaporate at room temperature? Why does the moon have phases?

Do you know?

I think there are some basic science questions that everyone should be able to answer. A lot of these are covered in basic science classes. But maybe you didn’t cover them in class. Or maybe you forgot. Or maybe you didn’t quite understand it correctly back then. I was reminded recently that the latter case may be more prevalent than we think.

So today I thought I’d share an explanation of one that perhaps hasn’t crossed your mind recently: why is the night sky dark?

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