Thursday, May 18, 2017

Excerpt from "Homo Deus"

from "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari p. 239-240.

Experiences and sensitivity build up one another in a never-ending cycle. I cannot experience anything if I have no sensitivity, and i cannot develop sensitivity unless I undergo a variety of experiences. Sensitivity is not an abstract aptitude that can be developed by reading books or listening to lectures. It is a practical skill that can ripen and mature only by applying it in practice.
Take tea, for example. I start by drinking very sweet ordinary tea while reading the morning paper. The tea is little more than an excuse for a sugar rush. One day I realize that between the sugar and the newspaper, I hardly taste the tea at all. So I reduce the amount of sugar, put the paper aside, close my eyes and focus on the tea itself. I begin to register its unique aroma and flavor. Soon I find myself experimenting with different teas, black and green, comparing their exquisite tangs and delicate bouquets. Within a few months, I drop the supermarket labels and buy my tea at Harrods. I develop a particular liking for 'Panda Dung tea' from the mountains of Yu'an in Sichuan province, made from the leaves of tea bushes fertilized by the dung of panda bears. That's how, one cup at a time, I hone my tea sensitivity and become a tea connoisseur. If in my early tea drinking days you had served me Panda Dung tea in Ming Dynasty porcelain goblet, I would have not appreciated it any more than builder's tea in a paper cup. You cannot experience something if you don't have the necessary sensitivity and you cannot develop your sensitivity except by undergoing a long string of experiences.
What's true of tea is true of all other aesthetic and ethical knowledge. We aren't born with a ready-made conscience. As we pass through life we hurt people and people hurt us, we act compassionately and others show compassion to us. If we pay attention, our moral sensitivity sharpens, and these experiences become a source of valuable ethical knowledge about what is good, what is rightand who I really am.

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