One of the most important lessons I learned in grad school was “what don’t I know?” The answer, of course, is “a lot.”
As you near the end of your studies as a PhD candidate, you have to take a comprehensive examination. It is a test to see if you have a fundamental understanding of the subject you are going to get your degree in well enough that you can teach it to others.
No it’s not. It is an academic gauntlet. The purpose of which is to teach you humility. You stand in front of a whiteboard while various professors bombard you with questions of increasing difficulty, on a subject, until you have no choice but you say “I don’t know.” Then they move onto a different subject and repeat the process until they break you.
See, you just completed 10 years of schooling. You think you know so much. You don’t, and they have to prove it to you by showing you the boundaries of you knowledge. You’re like a puppy, let loose into a big yard. This is your realm. And so you run until, ZAP!!! You hit the electric fence. You run in the other direction until ZAP!!! You hit the fence again. Soon you learn that in the whole wide world you can see, your realm is tiny. You know a thimble’s worth in the ocean of knowledge.
This is an experience I wish more people would go through. Especially journalists and politicians.
I am an expert on things in my thimble. When I talk about them, I talk with authority. For everything else, I research. Before I opine, I try to learn as much as I can.
There is an expression my graduate adviser used all the time “know just enough to be dangerous.” There is another one by Charles Darwin that I love: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” Psychologists have proven that this is true, scientifically, it is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
For weeks the gun blogosphere has been calling out the politicians and journalists who make stupid statements and push for stupid laws regarding universal background checks, gun free zones, and everything else they claim will save lives but won’t. How could these people say on TV or in print what they say and be so wrong with so little shame? They have the confidence of the ignorant.
Politicians and journalists are the embodiment of the Mark Twain quote: “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”
Twain also said “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” And we know that Twain was a genius.
There is one law I would love to have pass that I believe would help this country like no other, it is this:
“Before a congressperson can vote on a bill, they have to pass a qualifying exam to demonstrate a basic knowledge of the subject matter the bill will address.”
Such a law would most likely bring DC to a standstill. But once more we yield to the wisdom of Mark Twain “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” So maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.