Thinking of this, I started to think of cognitive science - my first degree had a module or two, and I was interested in connectionism and neural nets. Anyway, neural nets learn by exposing them to lots of exemplars of something. Then often you test them, then adjust the ‘network’ on what you know in another way is ‘right’. Then you go back to training - so there is stimuli coming in, and other sorts of information testing the ‘learning’.
These sort of ideas are surprisingly useful when you’re dealing with a growing child. You can see them hungrily taking in the world, and quite big changes suddenly occuring. You see the hunger for knowledge and the quick uptake of information. And the extent of needing to repeat things, to give different examples. But it’s amazing how quick it comes. And how much humans are programmed to explore!
Back to wine - taking from this, our ideas of quality are something like a ‘family resemblance’ gradually aquired through drinking lots of wine. We need lots of exemplars, and need to be open to all sorts of wine for ourselves to be sophisticated. This does not mean we have to be snobbish. Our ideas of quality can be determined by this exploratory nature, by drinking bad as well as good wine. By refining our palate by reminding ourselves both what good wine tastes like, but also reminding ourselves of how far we have come.
A colleague of mine, who was a really interesting guy, a Prof in Milan who came from an old Venitian family used to talk of different sorts of wine you might drink:
- generally, everyday wine that you had with your meals. Unpretentious, reasonably priced.
- every week you might have something special.
- every month, you might have something very special indeed - and I’m thinking he’s thinking a Brunello or Barolo or something.
- on very special occasions something particularly good. ‘To remind you of the taste of something really good’. he said.
I really like this approach. Actually, I would say that as well as drinking good stuff, it’s important to see why it’s good by also drinking cheap stuff occasionally, even bad stuff.
Another example- film making. Sometimes, watching a truly bad film. Some sub Schwarzenegger Sword and Sorcery epic, can actually tell you more about genre expectations, storytelling and filmic values in its failure, than just watching really good films. You see the bad plot, the terrible Deus Ex Machina ending, the eye-watering special effects. It’s not just watching 2001 that will show you, say the excellence in Science Fiction. It’s also watching the truly appalling Battlefield Earth (and do watch it - it’s hilarious).
OK - this sort of went from a post to a novellettte. Apologies!