Adventures in Ethics and Science


Elder offspring: Hey, that’s a cool chili pepper necklace.

Dr. Free-Ride: Do you know that I’ve had this necklace for about ten years and you are the first person who didn’t think it was a carrot?

Elder offspring: A carrot? That doesn’t look like a carrot!

Dr. Free-Ride: I didn’t think so, either. But I’m guessing it’s because the chili is orange, and people don’t recognize orange chilies as easily as red ones.

Elder offspring: Still, the shape’s all wrong for a carrot.

Dr. Free-Ride: I’m really pleased with your powers of observation and your ability to distinguish different fruits and vegetables based on subtle differences in shape.

Elder offspring: Thank you.

Younger offspring: (Coming into the room) Is that a chili pepper necklace?

Dr. Free-Ride: See, you didn’t think it was a carrot, either!

Younger offspring: Did you get that at Chili’s? No, the shape isn’t exactly like the chili in the logo.

Dr. Free-Ride: I’m still pleased about the powers of observation, but suddenly less pleased about the objects of observation.


  1. #1 Mark Paris
    September 28, 2006

    When I saw the necklace picture I immediately thought it was a chili. I happen to love chilis (the fruits, not quite so much the restaurants), so maybe familiarity helps. After you mentioned carrot, I saw that possibiity too, but the interesting part is trying to figure out exactly why it looks like a chili and not a carrot.

  2. #2 Helen
    September 28, 2006

    Heh, I saw a carrot, because I’ve looked at carrots a LOT in my life and since I can’t eat chilis, I’ve rarely looked at one. I’ve seen a lot of carrots that shape, so I’m not sure why it would be the “wrong” shape, though I could see that maybe it’s not the most stereotypical carrot shape.

  3. #3 Helen
    September 28, 2006

    Here’s another thought on the speculation as to why we see what we see:

    When I was quite little, I started getting my own chores in the family garden. Carrots were the first crop I was put in charge of, since they’re hard to mess up. My family never ate chilis when I was little. So my early exposure to objects roughly that shape is carrots=lots, chilis=nearly none. Perhaps early exposure to images/shapes is a part of it.

  4. #4 llewelly
    September 28, 2006

    I’m not the daily chili eater I once was, but I still enjoy them from time to time. To me the picture was immediately a chili in front of sweater, but I didn’t realize it was a necklace until I saw older offspring’s comment. Somewhat related – I’ve noticed many people regularly refer to wasps as ‘bees’. As to the restaurant, either it isn’t memorable, or I’ve never been there.

  5. #5 Frank
    September 28, 2006

    Well, I thought it was a menhir. But then, I’ve read waaay too many Asterix comics as a kids.

  6. #6 Thomas Winwood
    September 28, 2006

    It’s too red to be a carrot. I guess orange chilis are still redder than carrots.

    This would be so much less confusing if carrots still had purple spots, damnit.

  7. #7 JM
    September 28, 2006

    For the record, when I saw you yesterday I thought it was a chili but I was too tired to say “what’s up with the chili?”

  8. #8 David Harmon
    September 28, 2006

    I suspect it’s a matter of familiarity, but even 10 years ago, I would have called that for a chili immediately. BTW, Chili’s is a mid-range chain restaurant.

    Besides the classic color (and that’s well in the range), the rounding to the stem base and the contours of the main fruit are immediately recognizable. A carrot would have a differently-shaped base, the cone would be longer and straighter, and some of the surface features might be depicted. (Rootlet knots, transverse ridges…)

  9. #9 Kenny Easwaran
    September 29, 2006

    I saw that immediately as a chili, probably because it looks basically red to me. Only when you said it was orange did I realize it was somewhat out of the core reddish range. Also, I guess it’s a bit fatter than carrots stereotypically are, but the shape otherwise looks more carrotty than chili-y to me.

    And for the record, I’m one of those people that call wasps “bees”. At a certain point my boyfriend told me that was incorrect, and then when I assumed that wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, and bees were all parallel groups, he said that “wasps” refers to all the ones that aren’t bees, which confuses me.

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