16 September 2013

On Knowledge

"The whole universe interests me." ~George Brecht

Today's topic is knowledge, whether it's gained for the sake of gaining, or worth pursuing.

I use the phrase "an infinite mind" a lot. Not simply related to the title of this blog, but in conversation I might use it. I use it to describe myself, to describe people who lived their lives out in pursuit of knowledge. da Vinci had an infinite mind. Albert Einstein had an infinite mind. John Dalton had an infinite mind. There are many others. I revere these people simply because they went and discovered more. All discovery is not good - Robert Oppenheimer comes to mind. But yet it made the world a more curious, smarter place.

In case you haven't read the nineteen columns I've posted since January on topics, I enjoy knowledge.   Sure, I go and trivialize it and call it "trivia". It might be. It isn't exactly relevant to your life the way, say, how iOS works for your iPad or whatever. But I enjoy studying about this stuff.

Knowledge is important because I've always wanted to learn, stretch out my arms farther and reach the next level in education, in self-advancement. At age 3 I knew to read. By 4 I knew all the US Presidents, their VPs and terms. By 5 I knew the countries of the world. Don't call me a prodigy. What I was was merely curious.

People need to go out and discover things. Not simply because it'll be relevant to your life. Many people say that everything is relevant to life. The Amber Room, the VOC, Gorm the Old, Captain Cook aren't always relevant to life. But yet you'll be a bit smarter. You'll be aware of the amazing diversity and aptitude the world has in terms of knowledge. "Ipsa scientia potestas est"- knowledge itself is power. ~Francis Bacon

My ideal life is as such: study all the available branches of knowledge in university, in particular world literature, psychology, art fundamentals, philosophy and calculus. Learn 5 additional languages. Travel to every single country in the world. Partake in a ritual for each religion. Learn to play 2 musical instruments. Read classical literature. There is much, much more.

Of course, I will never accomplish all of the above. It is very possible. But it is also very nearly impossible.

What, then, is there to do? Learn. There is the Internet. There are books and print media. There are many resources out there. We simply don't know how to use them. Modern society likes lolcats and duck faces more than self-improvement. "Thank God for books and music and things I can think about!" ~Charlie Gordon

I am horrible at math. Equations make sense to me, yet when I sit down to work on my pre-calc homework, my mind is more often than not a blank. (OK, not that often, but there are many times.) Yet I opted to take Precalculus/Calculus 1 this year instead of Trig/Precalculus. Why? Why would I go to a harder math class when I struggle? For the challenge. Calculus fascinates me. Calculus makes our cars run, our aeroplanes fly, our bank accounts work, our computers process. I wish to learn how exactly calculus ties all the branches of mathematics together. It will be a struggle, mostly uphill. Yet I wish to learn.

As TE White says in his book The Sword in the Stone, 

“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” 

I think we should all live by those words, don't you think? There is so much out there. "There are so many doors to open. I am impatient to begin." 


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