Monday, December 13, 2010

The Curse of Knowledge

We were reading research showing that people who speak a tonal language (such as Chinese) have better pitch than those who speak other languages (such as English). They often notice even the slightest defects in pitch, such as a guitar which is slightly off. This can be a great musical asset, but it can also be a curse: while most people enjoy a slightly off tune song by the fireplace, those able to recognize small variations in pitch are annoyed by what can amount to noise for them.

I've experienced similar situations (not related to pitch, as I am almost tone deaf!). I learned to scuba in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. That became my "reference point" for diving and now most other places feel pretty bare in comparison. Or, take sushi: after discovering and frequenting some truly amazing sushi we have a hard time enjoying sushi anywhere else. I imagine wine connoisseurs have similar experiences: a slight problem with a wine ruins it for them - while most of us don't even notice. Of course the positive side is the tremendous enjoyment we get from superb things that we are capable of appreciating: a perfectly played violin solo, an extraordinary wine or a perfectly prepared piece of fish.

I do believe there is a takeaway, or at least so I told the kids: try to build up your experiences so that you culminate on the best one. In other words: save the best for last!

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