Thursday, October 30, 2014

How Much Context Matters

Recently, I walked in in the middle of a conversation about microwave cooking, and as soon as I walked through the door, the first words I heard were "microwave food is not good, right?"  That sort of question has a few meanings, but the most common meaning I am used to hearing about is just about how food cooked in a microwave generally doesn't taste as good as other modes of cooking.  To this, I agreed, as I generally find this to be the case as well.  Then it went off on some tangent about "killing everything" and how that supposedly doesn't happen with regular stovetop cooking...  and so I replied that that only happens after you reach a certain temperature (presuming that he was talking about killing microbes).  After some shouting where I couldn't quite follow what people were saying because it was too many people talking at once, I figured we were still talking about taste, so I made the point about being unable to achieve certain effects like searing the outsides of foods, applying dry heat, etc...  and then I got a question about radiation going into the food.  Well, that's technically how a microwave is supposed to work, so that is ostensibly true, but not much of a meaningful question in the context.  It wasn't until much later that I was informed that the discussion was about the safety of microwave cooking, and so I found myself unwittingly agreeing with people who held an absurdly misguided and factually dead wrong position.

A lesson in just how much context makes a difference, and how far off the mark one can go if they make presumptions about what that context is.  It is within context that meaning is derived, and getting that context wrong can really destroy your sense of what people mean at times.