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“How do you know if you haven’t tried it?”

November 3, 2011
by

Had a pleasant supper gathering last night with a few colleagues (garnished with a few Chinese, Greek and European folklore and mythology thanks to a colleague who is very well-learnt in those areas). It was either when I mentioned that I have never had Chinese mitten crab (大閘蟹), or that I have never drunk alcohol before, the myth-fan asked me why that is the case.

“Didn’t think I’d like it,” I said.

“Well, how do you know if you haven’t tried it?” asked my colleague.

“Well, you are right,” I said after a pause, “I cannot argue with that.”

Surviving the gathering, I went home in the usual post-social-gathering-reflective-mood. Rolling on my bed unable to fall asleep, it suddenly dawned on me that I was wrong – at least I was wrong in saying that I cannot argue with “how do you know if you haven’t tried it”.

I used to like to suck my toes, but at one point I must have stopped wanting to do it despite my pleasurable and intimate relationship with them previously. Taste change (especially when the toes have been in a pair of safety boots for a while), so one’s positive previous experience with something does not guarantee enjoyment in future. In other words, we don’t know for sure regardless of whether we have or have not tried something. The question then simplifies to “how do you know (with a certain degree of uncertainty)?

One makes a reasonable judgement based on evidence, such as (the mentioned) personal experience and, if that is not available, experience of others, experience in other related matters. I might not have tried Chinese mitten crabs before, but I have eaten crab roe from standard boring crabs. I also know (again, with a certain degree of uncertainty – phrase omitted from this point onwards) how the fact of knowing something has high cholesterol affects my ability to enjoy it. I know my mother, with whom I share not dissimilar taste in food, does not like them. I can therefore take an educated guess that I very probably won’t like them. To borrow an idea from sceptics of the paranormal: the fact that one cannot completely prove the non-existence of paranormal phenomenons does not mean one cannot make up one’s mind based on logic and the evidence that points towards the unlikelihood of such claims. The fact one cannot tell for certain whether one likes a certain idea, activity or thing does not mean one cannot make a judgement on whether one will or will not like the idea, activity or thing.

Otherwise, how do we decide what movie to watch when we go to the cinema? It is improbable that one has already seen all the movies being shown, we can still make a decision based on the trailers, the cast, the reviews, etc. We do not decide to try a movie solely because we have not seen it, not only because we have to pay for the ticket, but also because we could have spent the time watching another movie, watching a play, playing a watch or sucking our toes.

“Well, how do you know if you haven’t tried it?” asked my colleague.

“Well,” I wrote after a one-day pause, “I make a judgement based on other related experiences, what others have told me and any other relevant information I might have gathered.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. HTY permalink
    December 14, 2011 2:27 pm

    A better question would be, what do you have to lose to try it?

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