Knowledge nets

Sometimes it seems to me that knowledge is like a trawl you extend—the more you catch the denser you can make the mesh and catch even more. You find something out, evaluate it against what you already know, try to fit it in. Sometimes you have to throw away bits of the old. Sometimes the new bits can't be tied to anything else, but can be kept around until the rest of the net has grown so much you can fit the loose bits in.

For me, binding this mesh denser and denser is a deep-down necessity, forged by training and nature, with the effect that it seems I constantly overestimate the quality of other people's knowledge nets. Recently I was visiting an elderly relative and we watched the tv news. One item was about a Holocaust survivor, illustrated with his own photographs from Auschwitz. My relative stirred:
“When did this happen?”
Er, what? That was bloody Auschwitz! I thought but calmly said: “During the Second World War, '39 to '45.”
“In the 1900s?”
In your lifetime, yes! “Yes.”
And then the momentary glimpse of interest waned, as there were apparently no other hooks to tie the information to.

So this knowledge net, completely preposterously to my mind, lacked the loops to catch information about important parts of contemporary history. Admittedly, my own knowledge net has large empty areas when it comes to participants of reality shows, radio top 10 songs and such, but I'm not quite postmodern enough to consider all facts equally important.

I suspect that with such an incomplete net the daily news would be mostly gibberish that cannot be tied together to form a coherent world (which may contain contradictory claims, to be sure) since there is nothing to tie the individual facts together. (Often when I've seen science items in the news I've thought to myself: Those pictures were probably only meaningful to those who already knew what they was about.) And of course, if information does not make sense, what point in trying to get more of it? Tabloid headlines are to be rejected because they are too scaring, rather than rejected because they go against science and proven experience.

An ignorant population is possibly damaging to the democratic process and whatnot but I'm more worried people missing out on the beauty, terror, excitement and weirdness of the universe and I often wonder: “What went wrong?” Is it that some people just aren't interested in finding out more about the world? Did they have their curiosity stifled by bad teachers? Can they be recovered? Am I too impressed by my own magnificient general knowledge that I think everybody must understand a smattering of everything?

1 comment:

Martin said...

I hear you, brutha. I've felt that incredulity since first grade in school. People are unbelievably ignorant.