Fast Lemons and Slow. . .


Barry Smith writes in the book “This Explains Everything” that if you ask people to put lemons on a scale between fast and slow, most of us say “fast”. Why? And are oranges slow?

There are several ways to explain this result. But what kind of explanation do we want? Is it enough so say that our brains are wired to think that lemons are fast?  Or do we want to know what purpose it would serve?

We could focus on the colour of lemons and say that yellow is a fast colour.  Yellow captures of attention and it is the most luminous of all the colours.

Turning the attention to the shape of the lemon could also provide an explanation to why many of us think the lemons are fast. Below is a picture of a Bluefin Tune. The shape of this fish has evolved to make sure that they can swim fast and use as little energy as possible.  Well, it looks a bit like a lemon. . . or maybe not. . .


If we turn the attention to another sensory modality, we can ask ourselves if a  lemon smells fast? Or taste fast?

  • Lemons taste sharp
  • Sharp notes are high notes
  • High notes vibrates fast

So it seems like what we have experienced in one sense can be linked with features in another. These links are unexpected but they are reliable and many of them are shared. The fact that we make these cross-modal links may explain parts of how our brain works. Neuroscientists are studying these interactions between two or more modalities and cross modal plasticity is one area of research.

This also provides us with ideas about how to explore words and create new links. We can play with ideas and break pattern.  We can use the fact that a person may expect something to be presented in a way one, for example, a person may expect a sound and we give them a smell instead. Go here to read about engaging different senses.

Photo “Orange Lemon” by Salvatore Vuono


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