Sunday, 14 March 2010

MSGs and FSGs

I'm writing this sitting at the bar of a busy Chinese restaurant. I can see the chef work at almost miraculous speeds, divinding his time between tossing the wok, fetching ingredients, mixing and adding the sauces, then serving, cleaning and starting again. The whole cycle is very complicated and happens in about two minutes. The chef must have essentially written some of the routine to muscle memory, just as I did when I was working as a pizza chef. Then I notice something that brings back a hint of nostalgia for the greasy pizza kitchen. The chef, after a complicated movement scooping sauce from a bowl at neck height, transferring it to the wok, switching ladels and tossing the wok, he strikes the counter with the ladel. As far as I could tell, this had no purpose such as clearing food from the ladel. But I used to do it too, just after I finished cutting all the pizzas in an order. Unconsciously, I would strike the work surface with my tongs. Indeed, the chef in front of me turns away to begin a new order as soon as he completes his coda.
The reason I'm writing about this is that I've just been to a lecture by prof. Okanoya, the famous academic studying the bengalese finch- one of the singbirds with the most complicated song syntax in the world. Okanoya has generated a finite state grammar which captures these songs, and, interestingly, most of them include a sequence that only appears at the end of a phrase.
Basically, I was wondering if the chef and I had built our own cullinary finite state syntax, and whether we instincively added our own 'end note' to help conordinate ourselves. We may share a lot more with animals in our cognition than we might suspect.