Would It Be Better to Know Less, or More?

Recently I crossed paths with an acquaintance – a fellow parent at school – and we started reminiscing about bands. I forget what got us on the topic, but it was a pretty joyous thing. We recalled the real music of our lives, and the bands that made the most impact on us.

Delightfully, I discovered that The Doors were also his favorite band.

For me, this is basically like discovering someone else is a giant Star Wars fan. I am literally joyous when I discover someone else that has a deep, abiding love for what I consider to be the pound-for-pound best Rock’n’Roll band in history.

There have been plenty of bands with larger bodies of work, and longer histories. But The Doors were electric mayhem trapped in a crystalline time capsule, never to be repeated and leaving an impact that echoed all the way through the 1990s. They seem now to fade as never I thought they would, but that’s a topic for another time.

As I was talking with him, I realized that I slid into an easy groove that sometimes I’m not aware I fall into. Once the topic was tapped, a font of information was unleashed that eventually led him to say, “You’re one of those fans that likes the obscure stuff.”

He’s looking up the unreleased recordings of the Max Rebo Band before they found Droopy McCool.

Deep Cuts

In that moment, I realized he was right. Here was a guy who was sharing a love of the band with me. Without intent I had started riffing on all the volumes of information about them that I’d studied instead of paying more attention in school.

He just wanted to talk about the music. I was assaulting him with useless bits about how Manzarek and Densmore saw things very differently in their autobiographies.

It led, inevitably, to a reflection on something that Agent Bun said oh, so long ago when I was ranting polemical after my initial viewings of The Force Awakens. In that context, she said, “You need to relax. Normal people aren’t looking at the movie like you.”

During this conversation I realized the damage that too much “insider knowledge” of something can be for enjoying things. It was yet another jolt about habits I’ve formed over a lifetime.

I know I’m not alone. Maybe The Doors are a topical outlier, but spend some time with any rabid fanbase. The well of pointless knowledge runs deeper than imaginable.

So I had to ask myself the question, if it would it have been better – if it would be better – to have less knowledge of the things I love. Let the magician hold some tricks back and let me wonder.

When I wave my hand, Jedi ethics will become clear.
You don’t need to know what’s inside R2-D2. (He’s filled with sentient caramel.)

What Does a Person Gain From This Knowledge?

After all, what do I really gain from knowing all of these things? Does it truly add to my enjoyment of these works?

I know little of Ibsen, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying A Doll House. Moliere is lost to the mists of time but The Misanthrope and Tartuffe still speak to us. I don’t need to know how many drafts either wrote of their works, I just need to know what they’re saying.

Yet at the same time, context for Shakespeare’s day gives shape to HamletRomeo & Juliet, Othello, and the rest. Knowing that extra knowledge can inform, helpfully, what you take from them.

So I find myself stuck.

Perhaps there is too much to know. Perhaps I’ll never know enough.

I just wonder if it’d be better to know a little less.

* For the younger kids: “Acid” was slang for LSD, an awful mind-altering drug that led to slugabeds thinking they were philosophers.

2 thoughts on “Would It Be Better to Know Less, or More?

  1. Geez. I don’t know *what* you’re talking about. You sound like Spock droning on an on about the details of world history in Requiem for Methuselah (season 3, episode 19, episode 74 overall, which according to science fiction scholar, Ace Pinkington, was an adaptation of Forbidden Planet; no kidding). In fact, Spock is always criticized by Kirk as too engrossed in details, serving as a message to detail-oriented viewers that sometimes you have to take things not for the sum of their parts but for how they make you feel. This is all just so fascinating to me.

    You’ve got problems.


  2. This is certainly a perennial question. As far as physical science is concerned for me, learning the details IS the fun for me. Art might be a different story. In my humble opinion some great art is great because the observer can and does interpret it based on their life and present experience. So knowing the artist’s life our intention can possibly detract from that. We shall have to have this discussion next weekend.


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