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Knowing & Understanding

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

San Francisco sushi class
San Francisco sushi class

Over the past two decades, I've amassed a wealth of knowledge in the world of sushi.

I didn't know, for instance, that the origins of sushi were not in Japan. I wasn't aware of the ideal time to savor salmon, which is approximately five days after it's caught. I had no clue that the blood of Unagi (freshwater eel) is poisonous to humans when raw but harmless when cooked.

Most of this knowledge I acquired through reading or learning from others, and I now impart this wisdom in our sushi classes, whether for team building, private sessions, or public events.

These are facts I know, mainly composed of figures, historical facts, and scientific observations. However, knowing is distinct from understanding. This distinction became apparent to me while listening to a Jordan Peterson podcast, during which a guest scientist discussed the unique human capacity for understanding, a phenomenon still not fully comprehended.

Consider, for instance, my knowledge that sushi didn't originate in Japan but rather in Asia. This is factual knowledge, but I can't claim to understand it fully because I didn't live in that historical period, which dates back over 2,000 years.

In contrast, I genuinely understand the optimal time to consume salmon, approximately five days after it's caught, because I've experienced it firsthand. Most fish require around 8 hours postmortem to begin developing their flavor due to rigor mortis. I acquired this knowledge through reading, but my understanding was deepened by tasting both "fresh" and "aged" fish.

You may read a sushi cookbook or watch a YouTube video on making a California roll, which could lead you to know how it's done. However, that doesn't equate to genuine understanding. Real understanding only occurs when you physically take sushi rice in your hand and begin spreading it onto nori seaweed. This marks just the initial step.

There are myriad subtleties that I cannot encapsulate in a recipe, and true understanding can only be grasped by crafting an actual California roll – understanding the pressure required to evenly spread the sushi rice on the nori, for instance.

This is why I assert that AI cannot genuinely understand the intricacies of crafting a California roll or comprehend the emotional and sensory experience it affords humans when they create and enjoy one.

It's also why I continually urge you to come and experience for yourself the feelings, learning, and understanding that our class participants, and sushi catering clients share, as depicted in the accompanying picture.

Most of the true understanding comes only through physical experience.

So, will AI ever achieve this level of understanding when we can transfer all the data only humans can gain through physical experience?

Not yet. At least for now.

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