If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.
Will Durant (5 Nov 1885 – 7 Nov 1981)
This American philosopher and popular writer has my number! On his terms I have to admit to myself that I am still quite uneducated. Or, rather, I should say that my education is ongoing, a work far from perfected, and not much time to get there! Knowledge — to say nothing of wisdom! — is small, ignorance is vast, time is short.
It’s almost scary when you sit down and realize how little you really know, or even have anything like a serious knowledge of. Just look through any university catalog and check out the number of departments, or fields of knowledge that are listed there – and if that isn’t humbling enough, check out the number of courses that are offered in that institution. Time to get off one’s high horse of self-satisfied smugness and gallop at quickened pace to the stacks and the online courses at Coursera and MIT Open Course Ware (I myself have gone here to refresh my dormant calculus) and (hold on to your learning hat!) here. Wow on that last one!
Way back when I actually used to think that once I got through with all my college courses, undergrad as well as grad, I’d kind of be on my way and my education as such would be over. I’d just kind of roll downhill after that …
Well, it’s turned out to be a terrifying – in one sense – ride towards an ever receding horizon that, it is now clear to me, I shall never reach, for there is always another horizon beckoning me to keep riding. My problem has been that there simply isn’t enough time truly to master any one those fields spreading endlessly out before me. Durant – or anybody else – couldn’t have said it more pointedly … that business about “a progressive discovery of our own ignorance”. That’s what it seems to boil down to, and it seems one simply is compelled to accept those constricting, frustrating limitations about the state of one’s knowing.
But, given not only a conviction that perfection is a very dangerous enemy of the good, and also the affirmative recognition of the ineluctable reality that is human limitations, one indulges in the not unhappy voyage to the achievable good rather than founder on the jagged reefs and shallow shoals of some unattainable perfection. I acquiesce in the percipient if at times wistful awareness that I shall never be a great mathematician like a John von Neumann or his (Hungarian) countryman Paul Erdös, nor paint paintings like those of a James Bama or those of a Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, but these towering realities do not prevent me from ‘messing around’ with some paintings and drawings and doodling on my own [see ART category on this blog], nor from ‘playing at’ calculus (one of humanity’s greatest inventions!) from time to time or just toying with some word problems in elementary algebra (you know the type: if train A leaves Chicago at such and such a time and train B leaves New York City one hour later and travels at two thirds the speed of train A, if train B gets delayed for 43 minutes just outside Newark, at what time do they meet …). No, not perfection in any sense, but, as they say, good enough for government work!
And thus my education is ongoing, an open-ended and life-long discovering of how vast is my ignorance and continues to be.
It could be worse!