Today I listened to an inspiring TED talk by neuroscientist Stuart Firestein, entitled “The pursuit of ignorance”. What was most memorable for me was the idea that questions shape science, not some continuously growing body of knowledge. While this idea is not new, it did serve to remind me of the importance of the question. Admitting that one has questions and doubts about something lends a certain security, an admission of blindness that allows us to move on to the bigger problems. He mentioned something, to me, that was terribly interesting: on AP tests, instead of asking questions and expecting answers, the test delivers answers and asks “What is the next question?” What a cool idea! Rather than blind recitation of facts, it would take a cool, measured take of the data here and now and an ability to think ahead to answer that kind of question. These are the hard problems of our society, and being able to simply know something is not terribly useful. I currently am taking a neuroscience course that requires a lot of memorization of anatomy and often wonder at the use of such an effort. Now, blunt memorization of facts is not a bad thing, necessarily. It allows a person to become fluent in the language of the field he is working in, and allows one to begin to think independently. However, this is not the end of the process. What we leave out is what to do with our newly learned facts. I’m not hear to bemoan our nation’s educational system; in many ways, I agree with those that have expressed disappointment, but I also think that individually, we can change how we process our newly acquired knowledge. I understand that this takes more effort, but I think the aesthetic experience from solving problems alone is well worth that extra effort. However, as with many great questions, I am not sure how to do this yet. In later posts, I will be following up on this idea, hopefully with some more insights on how we, individually, can become better question askers and problem solvers.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the past altering our futures. I realized something: some of my most poignant and meaningful experiences were the ones recorded in some medium. Like home movies, right? We love them because we can revisit who we used to be, we can chart who we’ve become over time. The shift in our attitudes, motivations and behaviors become obvious. The nonlinearity of our experience settles into a more acceptable rhythm. So, of course, for the same reason that bloggers around the world have done it before, I need not only an outlet for my thoughts, but also a book of life, because far too often, I feel, genius can escape us not for a scarcity of creativity and innovation, but rather for lack of pen and paper (or keyboard and computer). So this is it. Follow it if you like it, if you find something relevant and useful for your own life.