Looking at Things with New Eyes

I have noticed when talking with experts that they cannot wrap their minds around the depths of my ignorance. Mathematicians when I tell them I have a poor track record with math and would like them to start at something simple, inevitably don’t believe me and start with something hard.


I think the answer is that they understand math so well that they have forgotten what it’s like not to understand math and in some sense can’t imagine it, or can’t conceive of it. Obviously they know that there are people who understand math less well than they do — it’s the basis of their livelihood that they possess an uncommon skill, and they, many of them, have the additional job of teaching math to people who are ignorant of it. But in another sense they can’t think it. They cannot look at a mathematical truth that is obvious to them and see it as non-obvious. Just as we, the literate (assuming you are not listening to someone read this blog to you) cannot look at written words and view them as the illiterate do — as meaningless squiggles.

We just can’t.

Try it.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the moves that led us to our current way of looking at things — our expertise, our competence — were all inevitable and all correct. But some of them aren’t. Some of them, were wrong, either just flat wrong, or wrong in the sense that foreclosed other, better options.

And this is a problem because their wrongness is invisible to us.

We need techniques for unlearning the blindness that comes of expertise, and viewing the world as the ignorant do.


A New Food

It is the new year and it is a custom to have a new food.

I recently read a book called “WALRUS” which is, as you might guess from the title, a cultural and natural history of the walrus.

It included a discussion of Yupik and Inuit cuisine. Colonialist explorers disdained this cuisine and even opted to get malnutrition eating the salted cod and grog packed away on their ships, but it was quite sophisticated. They would, for example, take a walrus flipper and allow it to decompose for a year before eating it. The most prized part of a walrus given to the lead on a walrus hunt was the stomach, because it was full of the fattest clams and oysters, which the walrus dug up from the sea floor, not with its tusks, as you might think — those were for fighting — but but blasting clams with water and then shelling them with its prehensile lips and whiskers.

I digress. It brought to mind a story I had heard in Alaska that after a whale kill the indigenous people’s would celebrate with “Inuit” or “Eskimo” ice-cream, which was made of snow, blubber, and local berries.

My friend Goldbloom told me that whale smells a bit like burning motor oil. A powerful taste. I would not eat a whale, because of how sophisticated they are, and also it violates the marine mammals protection act. So I ordered a powerful oily sea creature on the internet — the herring. I got it smoked and in cans, to make the taste more intense.

I also ordered cloudberry preserve although that has not come yet. But the herring did come. So I mixed it with frozen blueberries and ice in the blender.

It was a light blue color and smelled like smoky fish. The experience was cold, smoky, oily, and sweet — I added a little sage honey.

On SNL they mocked people who ate fish in a blender and I absorbed some of this prejudice — that frozen treats must be sweet not savory, and that fish is something to eat salted not sweetened. But these prejudices turn out to be foolish.

My home-made Inuit Ice Cream is amazing — it may be my favorite food.

L’Shana Tova — may you be inscribed for a new year that is both sweet and surprising.