Is The Wine Glass Half Full Or Half Empty?

Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it.  Stephen Covey

In Jonah Lehrer’s book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, he tells of experiments conducted by Frederic Brochet in 2001 at the University of Bordeaux.  Appropriately enough, the experiments involved wine.  In the first one, Brochet took two glasses of the same white wine, colored one of them red with food coloring, and proceeded to get the observations of 57 wine experts.

I can just see them sniffing, swirling, and sipping with an air of sophistication and culture, can’t you? The experts described the “red” wine in terms of its “jamminess” and other knowing, red wine terms.  Not one of them actually identified it as a white wine.

In another test, Brochet took the same medium quality Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles.  One was labeled as a fancy, fine wine while the other was labeled as a nothing special, table wine. The wine experts gave the exact same wine in the different bottles contrasting ratings.  The wine in the expensive bottle was described as “agreeable, complex, balanced, and rounded” while the identical wine with a cheap label was “weak, short, light, flat, and faulty.”

Lehrer writes:

What these wine experiments illuminate is the omnipresence of subjectivity….Our human brain has been designed to believe itself, wired so that prejudices feel like facts,opinions are indistinguishable from the actual sensation.  If we think the wine is cheap, it will taste cheap.  And if we think we are tasting a Grand Cru, then we will taste a Grand Cru.”

He explains that the taste of the wine, like everything, is more than the sum of our senses, and what we experience isn’t what we literally sense.  Our experiences are the interpretations of sensations by a subjective brain which factors in beliefs, biases, memories, and desires every time. (see post: My Reality Is Not Your Reality)

Lehrer goes on to say that even if we could experience the wine exactly as it is, without subjectivity, we would still all experience it very differently because each of our brains are unique on a cellular level and the part of the brain which interprets taste and smell is extremely plastic or changeable and is forever growing and pruning neurons throughout our lives.  Only the cells that respond to the smells and tastes we are actually exposed to survive; so, our brains begin literally to reflect what we eat.

Everything in our lives is similar to the wine experiments. Every situation or event, past, present, or future becomes what our brains attach to it, and our reality is subjective, in this way, becoming our own creations. Likewise, our brains physically respond by reinforcing neural connections that coincide with our predominant, habitual thinking, a concept known as neuroplasticity.

Directed neuroplasticity gives you the power to change your brain and life. I think I’ll choose to view the wine glass as half full. Cheers!

image source:


  1. Subjective context certainly is important. It’s amazing how much patients think I must know about their conditions, merely because I happen to be wearing scrubs. I have to keep inventing new ways to say “I just take pictures” in a light-hearted fashion.

    I don’t even know how little I know. I only know that I know too little.
    Thought-provoking post, Debbie.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Yeah, I can imagine that people see a person in scrubs and they automatically assume a great deal. You could have some fun with that, but I am glad you don’t! I would hope that in a hospital, people would check things out to be sure.

      I find that this is the hardest part for me, to remember that everything is just my interpretation which may or may not be close to the actuality.

  2. Anachronista Reply

    I’ve never liked the 1/2 full or 1/2 empty question. It’s ALL full, just 1/2 with liquid and 1/2 with air…

    Or if it’s 1/2 full of wine, and anywhere near me, it will certainly be empty soon enough.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Anachronista, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I like your perspective about it being full…even if it is half full of air! Creative and unique!

      I don’t drink alcohol anymore because of my brain injury. I miss my red wine!

  3. This is really interesting, Debbie. In my mind, it supports the notion not to take anything too seriously ~ it’s all a play and we might as well have fun with it.

    I was very intrigued by what you wrote here, “This is because each of our brains are unique on a cellular level and the part of the brain which interprets taste and smell is extremely plastic or changeable and is always growing and pruning neurons throughout our lives. Only the cells that respond to the smells and tastes we are actually exposed to survive.” So if we stop being exposed to something, those neurons die? That’s an interesting idea.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sandra, I like your perspective. It all should be taken more lightly because, with everything being so subjectively interpreted by our brains, everyone’s truth is true for them.

      The book specifically says:

      Fresh cells are constantly being born, and the survival of these cells depends upon their activity. Only cells that respond to the smells and tastes we are actually exposed to survive. Everything else withers away.

      • Hi Debbie,

        This is blowing me away this morning. Perhaps I overslept and I’m not quite awake enough yet, but I’m trying to wrap my head around this. So, there’s a combination of a self-fulfilling prophecy — what you think you see/smell/taste you create — and then also, the cells that are active become actually stronger, more dominant. The cycle reinforces itself? Hmm, so many things this applies to.

        I’m really inspired to learn more about the brain, thank you! :~)


        • Debbie Hampton Reply

          You got it, Sue! Here, I m particularly referring to the sense of taste. However, there is much scientific proof that shows your brain actually grows new connections and strengthens existing ones based on what you do, how you behave, what you think, and even what you imagine or visualize. These become dominant and the defaults for your brain whereas old ones not used become dormant. This neuroplasticity takes place until the day you die.

          I see this as the magic wand or super power we all have. In consciously directing our brains’ functioning in this way, anyone can really create our own reality. Powerful stuff!

  4. Wow Debbie I love thios post. I always enjoy very much all your writings and they teach me so much. Youa re a woman of wisdom. I admire you, You are an inspiration.



    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Well hi, Roxana. Hope you and Victor are well! Thank you for your oh so kind words. You and Victor inspire me! It is amazing how a brain injury can bring out the best in people, show you strength you never knew you even had in you, and change life for the better even, eh? Luv to you!

  5. Ande Waggener Reply

    Great stuff, Debbie! I didn’t know about those experiments, but they don’t surprise me. We experience what we expect, for sure. I’ve come to understand that there are no facts. There are only the things we decide are facts, so why not decide on facts that make us happy? Your wine story will help me remember that when I slide back into old ways of thinking!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Findings such as these and other recent quantum physics discoveries really make me understand that there really is no one reality. It is significantly different for each of us.

      I like your statements “We experience what we expect, for sure. I’ve come to understand that there are no facts. There are only the things we decide are facts, so why not decide on facts that make us happy?” I am definitely with you on that one.

  6. Hi Debbie,

    I love this post. It demonstrates that we not only receive from the world what we expect to find, but that our mental chemistry and future outlook are reinforced by our expectations. That’s why it is so important to believe in yourself — it makes all things possible.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Hi, Steve, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree totally with what you said. Well put. I feel very empowered by all the latest neuroscientific findings. I really feel like it explains to us and allows us to utilize a power we have had all along. We have been unknowingly using it mostly not to our benefit. Let’s use it for our good!

  7. Ruben Berenguel @100perZen Reply

    Thanks for reminding me about this study Debbie! Since then every time I see a wine connoisseur (or wannabe pedantic wine lover…) I laugh a little inside me and think about brewing my unbranded black tea which I find better than the expensive brands.



    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Reuben, I love it! Isn’t that what is all about? Appreciating and finding happiness in whatever you do and have. It does not matter if it is a home brew or a car that is not pretty, but it gets you there. It is what you believe it is and it holds whatever meaning you project onto it.

  8. Cheers to you Debby!
    I love a glass of NZ pinot noir, but I’m not a fan of white wine at all…. but I wonder if I’d know the difference blindfolded. I like to think so?

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Do a test with someone’s help. You might be surprised! 🙂

Write A Comment

Pin It on Pinterest