Originally posted on 08-09-07:
An acquaintance or relative, I forget which, gave their old car to a teenaged daughter, who drove it till the engine blew up a few weeks later. Somehow she had never encountered the fact that cars use oil, and that it needs to be checked and replenished occasionally.
While hers is a classic case of the inconvenience and expense ignorance can lead to, there are millions of examples around us: People who are ignorant of nutrition and the importance of weight control and exercise cause themselves untold inconvenience, pain, disease, expense, and ultimately, an early and often unpleasant death. Ignorance of the dangers of driving—especially while intoxicated—and of safe driving practices, are no doubt to blame for many of the 40,000 deaths on U.S. highways every year—I can’t imagine what the world-wide toll must be. I could go on and on…
Not only can ignorance be dangerous and expensive, it contributes to a poverty of existence, a diminished enjoyment of life. People who spend their free time watching TV come to mind—apparently unaware of more interesting things to do—but there are countless other ways of frittering away the short time we have on this planet, unaware of the excitement and enjoyment that lie beyond the borders of the little world bounded by our ignorance.
I consider myself fortunate for having been presented at a formative age with the joys of education—pushing back the boundaries of ignorance. My parents bought us, at no little sacrifice, a set of World Book Encyclopedias when I was 11 or 12—I think before we even had a TV set—and my brother and I used to pull down a volume and thumb through till something attracted our attention. I have enjoyed learning about things ever since—thanks Mom and Dad!
Needles to say, I love the internet if for no other reason than the learning potential. I have been amazed at the opportunities from the beginning, and it’s only gotten better. One of the greatest assets of the web is Wikipedia, and the link I’ve given you here is to the List of Overviews, which is a good approximation of my brother’s and my access to the World Book. The opportunities are endless.
What prompted this post was the opening of a new chapter in my own continuing education. I mentioned Susan Blackmore in my last post, and her podcast on Point of Inquiry. That interview with her was so great that it led me to explore the other podcasts on that site, and I’ve been listening to one every morning while I put my breakfast together—a meal that I eat in installments from breakfast till dinner, actually. (I’ll give you my recipe at some point, since it is illustrative of my ongoing study of nutrition.) Every one has been thought-provoking, and usually leads to an addition to my Amazon wish list.
Point of Inquiry is an outgrowth of the Center for Inquiry, whose mission is, “…to promote and defend science, reason, and free inquiry in all aspects of human interest.” They offer many resources, in addition to the podcasts, and you can imagine how interesting they are to someone with my interest in education. I mentioned the importance of science a couple of posts ago, and the fact that we are all scientists, whether we realize it or not, so I feel I have discovered a new resource and a new group of cyber-friends at CFI.
Finally, while language is indispensable to the growth and spread of knowledge, one of the things I have learned to be aware of is its limitations. For all its benefits, language is an abstraction from our experience. It has allowed us to expand our experience in ways that would be impossible without it, but as an abstraction, it inherently simplifies that experience, and can obscure the rich sensuality and ultimate inexpressibility of that from which it abstracts. Each moment of our life is a mystery that even poets cannot express. In fact, the best of them produce for us another mysterious, inexpressible experience. (Please note: “mysterious” does not equate with “supernatural.”)
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