A few years ago, while living in Korea, I rarely cooked. My kitchen was probably 2’x6’ and didn’t include an oven. Just two small burners, a sink, and almost zero counter space. I would eat out for almost every single meal.
Eventually, a friend gave me my very first rice cooker and it changed my life. If you’ve never tried a rice cooker, it will surely change yours as well. All you do is throw in water and rice, flick a switch, and walk away—it turns off automagically when the rice is ready. I started adding spices. And vegetables. Eggs and meat. Just dump it all in and press a single button and you’ll have a meal in 20 minutes.
I always wondered though (and still do)… how the fuck does this glorious machine work? I assumed it had something to do with weight—when the water boils off just enough, an internal scale is triggered which flicks off the heat. But no, it’s apparently something to do with heat. You can read more details here: https://www.cnet.com/news/appliance-science-how-rice-cookers-cook-rice-without-burning/
“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
I often have an alarming realization after reading articles like this—articles that “explain” how things work. I still don’t understand how it actually works. I get the general concepts but… how would someone build something like this? How does it recognize heat? How does rice absorb water? It’s beyond me. And my ignorance does not stop at rice cookers.
The internet—I can send words and images and sounds and videos to anyone in the world? I understand that I can do that. I understand how to go about doing that. But how does it actually work? Go on. Try to explain. Bet you can’t. If the internet stopped working tomorrow, could you rebuild it?
Coding—People type these random commands onto a screen (how does a keyboard work? How does a computer screen work?) and these commands result in computer programs that can deliver food to your door? How? Like, actually, HOW?!
My ignorance transcends the tech world. Yeast makes flour and water rise. I’ve made dough many times, so I know how to do that. But how it actually happens? This article explains: https://www.finecooking.com/article/yeasts-crucial-roles-in-breadbaking
“… enzymes in the yeast and the flour cause large starch molecules to break down into simple sugars.”
OK, great. But how does it cause these molecules to break down?
“The yeast metabolizes these simple sugars and exudes a liquid that releases carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol into existing air bubbles in the dough.”
OK, great. But HOW does it metabolize? HOW is the liquid being exuded to release the carbon dioxide?? The questions could continue endlessly, but I don’t want to sound like an annoying child questioning everything around him, even though that’s basically exactly what I am.
My point is, I suppose, is that we as humans generally have no fucking clue what’s happening in the world around us. What’s perhaps even more interesting (or alarming) is our tendency (or commitment) to pretend that we do.
“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.”
— Daniel J. Boorstin
I challenge you look around and try to clearly explain how the simplest of things work. You’re reading this. Your eyes are moving. How are they moving? Because your brain tells them to move. How is your brain telling your eyes to move? How does your brain even know to move your eyes? Explain. Come on. In the comments, EXPLAIN.
I bet you can’t. I know that I can’t. And I’ve been striving to accept my rampant ignorance ever since reading Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s “Think Like a Freak” (these are the guys who wrote “Freakonomics” and “SuperFreakonomics”.)
Levitt and Dubner posit that the three hardest words to say in the English language are “I don’t know.”
“The greater the ignorance the greater the dogmatism.”
— William Osler
They state that “Smart people love to make smart-sounding predictions, no matter how wrong they may turn out to be,” and that dogmatism—“an unshakeable belief they know something to be true even when they don’t”— is the primary attribute of someone who is particularly bad at predicting.
People rarely “admit that the future is far less knowable than you think.”
They cite several studies which show that so-called “experts”, such as economists, politicians, and sommeliers, are often wrong. The Iraq war, for example. Iraq definitely had weapons of mass destruction, right? So the US invaded and started fucking shit up to uncover said weapons. It cost them a decade, hundreds of billions of dollar, hundreds of thousands of lives… and guess what? No WMD. Whoops.
“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”
— H.L. Mencken
So why do so many people pretend to know about things that they don’t? Levitt and Dubner state two reasons. The first is based on the simple economic concept of incentives, which underpins their entire book (and the entire field of economics).
Simply put, humans are motivated to act through incentives. We work to get paid. We swipe on Tinder to get laid. We weed our gardens to gain approval of the neighbours. Whatever we do, we are more likely to do it if the incentives are there.
Take economists. They get paid to essentially make predictions about the future. If they accurately predict what will happen to the stock market, they’ll make a lot of money, either for their investors or through lucrative future speaking gigs, etc. If they’re wrong… Who cares? They’re basically expected to be wrong. Their incorrect predictions will be forgotten.
So there’s no incentive for an economist to say “I don’t know”. Instead, they make smart-sounding predictions.
“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”
— George Bernard Shaw
The other reason we pretend to know things is based on our moral compass.
“A moral compass can convince you that all the answers are obvious (even when they’re not); that there is a bright line between right and wrong (when often there isn’t); and, worst, that you are certain that you already know everything you need to know about a subject so you stop trying to learn more.”
I’ll use a particularly fraught (for Americans, anyway) example: gun control. My personal moral compass unequivocally tells me people should not own or carry guns (unless hunting). Assault rifles should obviously be banned. If we banned guns, there would be less gun crime. In my mind, I KNOW THIS. It is true… in my mind.
But is it true? How the hell do I know? I have nothing to base this on. Sure, gun crimes plummeted in Australia when they banned guns. Sure, America has the most gun crime and the most guns. So there is some correlation to my belief. But will banning guns actually lower gun crime in America? Truthfully, I have no idea. But I will tell anyone who’s willing to listen that it definitely will.
“Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.”
Cannabis became legal in Canada on October 17, 2018. Before legalization, there was a group of concerned citizens who vocally argued that legalization would mark the end of our nation, basically. Everyone would become stoners or drug addicts. The country would grind to a smoke-induced haze and we’d all die.
Guess what? We’re a season into legalization and, by my estimation, almost nothing has changed. My friends who always refused to smoke weed still don’t smoke weed. People still go to their jobs everyday. Transit is running.
Day to day, we are, more or less, in the exact same situation we were on October 16, 2018. Of course these legalization naysayers didn’t know what would happen.
Not that I knew what would happen… but I sure pretended like I did. I still pretend that I know legalization will be all good and no bad. But I have no idea what I’m talking about. No one does.
“Ignorance is bold and knowledge reserved.”
Stop pretending you know anything. You don’t know shit.