Do we really understand?

I am listening to a book called Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! It is a very entertaining set of stories written by and about the life of Richard Feynman. He was a theoretical physicist his accomplishments include winning the Nobel prize.

Among the other lessons told through story, it strikes me how he is an individual with a need and capability to truly understand how things work. Through the stories, I recognize my own shortcomings. I often do things without understanding how they truly work.

Indeed, I do not believe I am capable of deeply understanding all of the things I do and interact with. I see it daily, how my husband can understand mechanical things in ways that I do not grasp.

But I can work to understand more. To ask questions. To ask why over and over again instead of taking things as given, perhaps because that is how it has always been done.

I recently searched for recipes to cook a chuck roast. I looked in my new book Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat and Wendy MacNaughon. The book contains recipes, but the underlying focus of the book is to explain the fundamentals of how things interact to create good taste; mainly salt, fat, acid, and heat. I came upon a section on brazing. It was not a recipe at all, but rather an explanation of how to brown a large chuck roast or small chunks for stew, and the fundamentals of what to put in the pot. Consistent with her goal, she did not provide a specific temperature for cooking but rather a range and an explanation of why you might want a lower temperature within the range.

Even though I usually follow recipes vaguely and add my own touch, this was a new level in truly describing how and why to create a dish and leaving the amounts entirely up to the cook.

I think that this kind of fundamental teaching it’s something we should be seeking and teaching more of.

At the very least, I appreciate a greater awareness of the difference between doing something as you were taught, and truly understanding what and why you are doing it: such as following a recipe versus understanding the fundamental principles and the why.

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