We know a lot. Data abounds in our culture. Even the common denominator of non-college graduate vocabulary suggests that we’ve been pressured as a culture to find an expanded lexicon because we simply have more to talk about. Besides the obvious conduit of data fed to us via the Internet, we live with a net increase of information resulting from all media. The bar has risen; the flood-markers are higher. Facts flourish.
Or so it seems. From our kitchen cabinets and refrigerators with their war on genetically modified organisms (“Buy Organic”), to the effect of music on the neurological development of our children (“Science Demands the Arts”), we are awash in disseminated discoveries. At once, this abundance of information is confounding and dangerous.
It is confounding because it instantaneously threatens our confidence and ability to comprehend such astronomical amounts of new data. At the worst we are tempted to give up on the quest to “stay informed.” Most of us settle for a hit and miss compromise that hones in on what is most pertinent to the task at hand, be it diet choice, business marketing ploy or educational curriculum. But even so we follow our pursuits with the nagging doubt that we might have deprived ourselves of some vital research findings bearing directly on our quests.
More significantly because less obvious, our culture’s abundance of information, whether scientific, historical or sociological, can be dangerous. We may too easily reach a plateau for reasons of convenience, project completion or laziness, where we assume we know enough. In such instances we may stop desiring to know, thinking it unnecessary. And so we live in an atmosphere where what we don’t know can hurt us.
We know a diet plan; we do not know the organic chemistry underpinning nutritional science that renders organic butter a healthy fat for us. We know what Ramses II did in Kadesh, during the 13th Century b.c.e. We don’t know whether what led him to do it that is exactly the situation facing the Pentagon in 2012 c.e. – Such truncating of our access to information might have a corollary in the near-complacent reflex, “Well, I can always ‘Google’ stuff like that; no need to really learn it.” After a while, our desire to know might atrophy.
But the other day a down-to-earth conversation brought another challenge. My “Isn’t it amazing how much we know?” pulled from my friend an antiphonal “And how little!”—The implication, that the rest of our discussion strove to explicate, was that we really don’t know the very important questions all the little important facts must be required to answer. (If you will, the sustainability of a forest an individual tree must honor.) Perhaps those questions generate the course outlines for what we have always called education; the need for facts being the driving generator of what we know as research. Just a suggestion.
If I’m right, there’s a measure of comfort in such a view. On the broad horizon of what it was once politically acceptable to call a liberal education—the questions and objectives sought are as recognizable as they are universal. What does it mean to be human? What is good and what is a common good? How do we know?
Now I’m going to Google (that’s Go- ogle ) Ramses II.