Thursday, September 9, 2010


It's the habit of women to point out the fallibilities of their men, and Laura is no exception to this rule. She often mentions to me various humbling moments of mine that, as far as I can tell, are indelibly imprinted upon her memory. One such event was when I misread a street named “Dove Tail” not to be the bird but as in “dove”, the past tense of “dive”.

“It's when I first realized that you're not that smart,” she says of it.

“Well, it's a good thing your expectations were brought down to match reality,” I reply.

Laura's initial confusion on the matter likely stemmed from my odd habit of pursuing, well after college, self-education. “Self-education” may ascribe to it more than it is. Basically, I read a lot of non-fiction and like to strike up idea-oriented conversions with people. And “odd habit” may be the wrong phrase to use here. “Anachronism” may be a better fit, for not too long ago, “professional” types made an effort to impress upon others that they were literate and erudite. Sometimes, these efforts were made not merely to impress others.

I read a lot of non-fiction because I feel joy when learning new ideas. New facts are interesting, but new ideas are like whole new worlds opening up before me. Some people like to travel to new places see new things. I can get the same effect by staying put and modifying my world view to see differently the same goings-on around me.

Of the non-fiction that I read, some is a continuation of my “formal” education, such as when I read about theoretical computing science or philosophy, and some is wholly new, like when I learn about classical history or religion or appropriate technology. In either case, there's so much knowledge out there that I feel by my efforts that I am merely scratching the surface of a mountain.

One disconcerting realization is that at the age of 31, my brain does not work the same as it did when I was half as old. Back then my brain was a sponge, and what I learned became a part of me as intimate knowledge. Nowadays, my memory is much fuzzier. Like how one can squeeze 6 to 10 music albums in the space of 1 using a lossy compression algorithm like MP3, what I learn now is similarly reduced in quality from the original. The way this feels is that new knowledge I acquire is less intimate, not as firsthand. It requires a more deliberate act of recollection to use and is not as trustworthy.

It's theorized that there exists a critical age for learning language—a window of opportunity, which, once passed, bars a human from acquiring language as fully and “naturally” as otherwise. I suspect that there further exists a critical age for acquiring knowledge. Past some window of opportunity, probably ending sometime within one's mid to late twenties, and the human mind cannot acquire new knowledge with the same ease, fullness, and fluid grace as otherwise. Past that critical age for knowledge acquisition comes the unending opportunity for acquiring wisdom, which is the application of knowledge already gained towards good and right ends.

In this view I judge my formal schooling as woefully inadequate. Perhaps this is an inevitable regret, for there is that veritable mountain of available knowledge out there that we are, individually, only scratching at. And yet it is while I read about history even in a broad and coarse scope, which, above all else lies at the core of knowledge prerequisite to wisdom seems it ought to be more common to people than it is, that I question at the efficiency and empowerment of my formal education.

The preponderance of my schooling was, I think, largely a practical matter that happened to educate as a side effect rather than an end unto itself. Based on the existing evidence, it succeeded in that it provided me the means to earn for myself a living. But cannot we do better than this? Should we not lift our expectations above reality?


Lindsey said...

:) I like this post.

Why do you think I'm homeschooling?

cmbrandenburg said...

Lindsey—I'm happy you enjoyed the post. I've been meaning to email you about the homeschooling effort.