I don’t understand it, therefore it’s bad


You’re reading a Github README. It doesn’t get you started in five minutes. It doesn’t solve your problem exactly. Therefore it’s bad!

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Don’t hesitate, put that rage on Twitter! But don’t stop there. Create a mob! Start a movement! Protest against the government, find somebody to blame! When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Get mad!


It appears that subjective experience and objective reality is not exactly the same thing.

Subjective experiences are real, but real in the sense that the feeling is real, not in the sense that the opinions that follow the feeling are objectively true.

To disambiguate between the subjective and the objective, I’d like to defer to David Deutsch.

If beauty is objective, why is there so much variation in what people consider beautiful?

Beauty has both a subjective and objective part. Human aesthetic judgment is a complicated mixture of genetic, cultural and objective factors. If you look at paintings from centuries ago, you will find that the women tend to be considerably heavier than what we now consider to be ideal. That can be neither objective nor genetic, so it must be cultural. Our preference for symmetry is probably related to our preference for healthy mates — many diseases and deformities make people less symmetrical. So that one could be genetic.

Our knowledge of the nature of objective beauty is still primitive. We cannot reliably distinguish between subjective and objective beauty, certainly not by just looking. Things that meet aesthetic preferences built into our brains or instilled by culture look just as beautiful to us as those that are objectively beautiful.

Interview with David Deutsch, Nature, October 2015

You may have encountered something objectively bad. Your rage may be righteous, and exactly what is required to fuel your motivation to create a better world.

Or you may have encountered something subjectively bad, due to a difference of aesthetic preference. In that case, seeking understanding might be more helpful than finding an outlet for your anger.

I’d like to argue that the statement “I don’t understand it, therefore it’s bad” is bad from an epistemic point of view: it mixes up the subjective with the objective. “I don’t understand it” describes your subjective experience. “It’s bad” is an objective claim, generalized broadly from your experience. What if the thing you’re trying to learn is essentially hard, and requires real effort to learn?

Consider splitting your understanding from the objective quality of the thing. It’s perfectly fine to not understand things! Lean into that. When you know you don’t understand something, that’s the first step to understanding it. But don’t try to skip over the learning process. First try to clarify what you’re not understanding. What are you trying to achieve? What did you try to do to reach your goal? Then what happened?

Perhaps you can ask someone to explain the thing you don’t understand. My experience is that people are often happy to help you learn new things. But beware of jumping to conclusions too quickly. Expressing rage that the thing they made is bad might not help you reach your goals.

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

Rudyard Kipling

—Teodor, 2024-06-15