Friday, October 21, 2011

On Knowledge, or My Nickname is Google

My dad, a terrifically clever man, has taught me a lot of things. How to ride a bike, how to mow the lawn, how to change the spark plugs in my moped. How to work hard, how to fish, how to use a lathe, vertical miller, drill press, and various electric saws. He read me stories about archaeology and mythology and helped me build model pyramids out of clay. And if you had a question, whether it was "why is the sky blue" or "how can I reassemble this jumble of bones into a raccoon skeleton," he would know the answer.

(A favorite story was when my Aunt took me and my cousins to the beach, and my cousin asked her something about a shell or creature she found in the sand. My Aunt didn't know the answer, and my cousin sighed deeply and said, "I wish Uncle were here. He knows EVERYTHING.")

Now that I'm a grown up, I like pursuing the idea of knowing everything. Socrates said, "All I know is that I know nothing," and Oscar Wilde said "I am not young enough to know everything," but I treat pursuit of knowledge as my job. (Just not one I get paid for.)

On one of my favorite TV shows, Bones, Dr. Brennan sometimes employs an assistant Mr. Nigel-Murray who has a love of spouting out random facts. His habit gets on the nerves of most of the rest of the cast, but I love this character, because often times his random knowledge provides a vital clue to unraveling the mystery at hand.

I find that while my collection of knowledge is useful for trivia night, it often helps me in other ways. I enjoy discovering shared intellectual pursuits at networking events. Learning about foreign cultures has been very useful in navigating my current role in an international industry, from etiquette on accepting business cards to deciphering idiomatic speech patterns.

But the sheer joy of knowing something is its own reward. As we are so often told, knowledge is power. Power to master statistics or analyze current economic and financial trends. Power to immerse yourself in another language and read all the nuances of a culture. Power to know exactly where you have come from, and to determine where you are going.

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