Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post-Christmas Shopping Directions Knowledge

So my wife and I and my two oldest sons were out shopping yesterday. I was driving. We needed to go to a jewelry store in a particular shopping center. I was pretty sure I recognized the name of the shopping center and knew where it was, but we had the GPS up as well. And guess what? The GPS was taking us toward where I knew we needed to go.

Except that isn't where we ended up. We stopped a good, eh, mile (maybe less) earlier than what I'd thought. I'd had the "general direction"  pretty good up to a point, but I didn't really know where the shop was located.

It seems that this is a problem with much of the state of knowledge with most people in the US today. We are content with a kind of "general direction" feeling and allow that to give us a certitude of knowledge we don't deserve. Senators like Joe Liberman have recently commented on the aspects of the health care bill they say they don't like -- while at the same time admitting that they haven't even read it! Politicians like Sarah Palin talking about "death panels" even when it has been clearly defined what living wills and end of life consultation with doctors really means.

In today's world, "knowledge" has been degraded from "truth" to "your interpretation of it." And unfortunately, the people on the fuzzy end of the stick are not the liberals, but the conservatives. The scientists and those who deal in hard data and reality are the ones who insist on a more literal reading, while the conservatives are much more willing to misread the data or misconstrue it in light of irrelevant or made-up ideas or previously-drawn conclusions.

This may be due to the fact that many of them have already drawn conclusions in certain areas that they feel the obvious conclusion in other areas would bring conflict with. But then cognitive dissonance is never an easy thing to deal with! It makes some people quite irritable.

As knowledge proliferates, people will have to make choices of how to deal with it. Situations constantly occur which challenge our expectations, and it is going to be our reaction to knowledge that may make the difference. Why do so many young people leave the church? Is it because we believe there is no knowledge other than what we think we already know and everybody had better listen only to us? Is it because we condemn others for their beliefs but really don't provide the most solid basis for our own?

Our young people are not fooled when they see us making erroneous arguments! They may not say anything, but we often lose their respect.

Perhaps another problem with people's reaction to knowledge is that the truth is usually complicated. That's right, complicated. The truth is almost never an easy, simple solution that anyone can see. Oh, it sometimes is, sometimes, but usually not. People, situations, and data are complex things. Interactions are complex. You can never sort out all the variables or understand all the interactions (if you could, you would be God).

But people want the simple solutions. They want the easy answers. That way they don't have to think too much. It makes for great politics, too! Just scream "socialism" and any good program will seem evil. Announce that you are promoting "responsibility" and a program that hurts the poor and benefits the rich will have its justification.  And few will take the time to gain the knowledge needed to understand the realities.

This leads us to another problem. It is so much easier to tell a lie than it is to correct it. I have scientist friends who will not participate with "creationists" in their so-called "debates" because the lies they tell about the science in five minutes would literally take two weeks of good solid instruction in the classroom to begin to undo.  That's right, begin.  Telling untruths about science is easy. Learning science is hard work.

Point: if you don't like evolution, then learn it thoroughly so that you don't wind up lying about it. Nothing makes a scientist more irritable than to have his work lied about by someone who won't take the time to learn about what they are opposing (and of course assume that everything coming out of their supposedly divinely inspired mouths just has to be the gospel truth!).

Another problem with learning is that people have the idea, "why should I learn this? Where am I ever going to use it?" I see this frequently in my classrooms. One never knows where knowledge, information, thinking skills and abilities may be used in one's life. It is like the Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared." Those who are prepared can meet most any situation. Those who are not -- well, sorry folks! Why not learn it? Why not know it? Why not try to understand what it means?

Well, I have now added one more specific piece of information to my navigational knowledge of Raleigh. And I have taken the tangent line to talk about knowledge in general.

I hope in this next year that you will make an effort to learn more about everything -- the things you like and the things you don't -- so that you can be well-informed, knowledgeable, and reasonable. The Lord knows how much we need reasonable people around in days like these! And remember the Scripture: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge!"


  1. I liked this post. Willful ignorance of science and mathematics is often self serving. I think economics should be the domain of physicists and not self serving political philosophers ignorant of scientific method. Economics is not discussion. It is not rhetoric. It is not a tool to line the pockets of a political constituency. I think I'll follow your blog. Here's a sample of mine. And here's some other stuff.

  2. I loved your cartoons! Fantastic! You have some fantastic art there as well. Thank you for following -- I will have another blog post up soon (I have been ill lately).