Virtue of Not Knowing

All of the scientist bones in my body cringe at the title of this post. Nevertheless, this is an idea that I came to appreciate as I walked in downtown LA this morning.

I was thinking about a scene from Jet Li’s Fearless. The Japanese fighter, whom we shall call Japan, was having tea with Jet Li’s character, whom we shall call Jet Li. Japan asked, “Do you know anything about tea?” to which Jet replied, “No I do not. I understand there are many kinds of tea, but to me, it is all just tea.”

Japan said, “But the different kinds of tea each have different character, different effects and flavors.”

Jet said, “That may be so, but studying the tea in detail ruins the experience of the tea. I prefer to appreciate the tea for what it is.”

This exchange came to mind because I was thinking about what it would be like to know everything about food. I came to think that I could seldom enjoy food, because I would always be analyzing it’s shortcoming. The analysis would also dull the excellences of the food, since that is what I would come to expect.

I guess the point is that to appreciate some things, I have to take it for what it is in that moment rather than analyzing and comparing. I have to embrace my ignorance for the full experience.

In many cases, the opposite is true. Sometimes knowing a lot about something helps you appreciate it more. It gives a sort of sensitivity neglected by novices.

So, I suppose I will keep alert as to what things I should appreciate in full without analysis and what things I should learn more about to gain greater sensitivity. Or are these actions mutually exclusive? How can I tell?

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3 thoughts on “Virtue of Not Knowing

  1. That’s a pretty touchy concept. As far as food goes, I feel like food ignorance could be used to justify living off of crappy frozen pizzas instead of actually trying to enjoy your food. Then again, crappy frozen pizzas are great if your finances are stretched.

    I think maybe it’s not about knowledge but about expectations. As you noted, more knowledge of a subject can give you greater expectations; and if you expect too much you will be dissappointed. So how do you avoid expecting too much? By knowing more, knowing less, or by some other method?

    Blarg. Slightly too general a topic for my taste 😛

    1. Thanks for clarifying the discussion. Maybe it’s possible to gain knowledge about something while maintaining a basic appreciation. These words mean little, since the subject is hard to elucidate in language. Maybe the idea is something like this: Perhaps it’s possible to have great knowledge of the film making process but still not feel the need to point out every film making mistake in every movie. I can know all about film making, and still enjoy MIB3 for its silliness rather than hate it because of its precarious lighting mistakes (just an example, MIB3 doesn’t really have lighting mistakes as far as I can tell).

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