This story about Confucius insisting on practicing the same piece of qin music instead of moving on to something new as told by his teacher is both inspiring and thought-provoking, thanks to Mei 楊嵋 for pointing this out.

So many of us, students or researchers, rush to the next thing before truly mastering one thing. Confucius in this story did not stop after he “learned” 習 something, but he continued to master the techniques 數, to understand its spirit and intention 志, and to ultimately know its creator in the most profound sense 得其為人. Such empathy and humility lead to a kind of insight that is little appreciated today. This contrasts sharply to our utilitarian approach to knowledge and learning.

In this sense, the study of art and music is particularly important to scholars. Learning with insight makes us human. The arts have a way to force us to look inward and one cannot fake one’s way through. I realize that it is a humanist bias from my side — I always feel that scholars who have no musical or artistic talent and training have a high chance of being fakes. And this is becoming more so since “hard knowledge” is becoming all available digitally.