Confused on a Higher Level
My high school chemistry teacher’s office door was covered with signs and pictures. Most of them were nerdy chemistry jokes or Star Wars paraphernalia, but there was one quote in particular that stood out:
We have not succeeded in answering all our problems—indeed we sometimes feel we have not completely answered any of them. The answers we have found have only served to raise a whole set of new questions. In some ways we feel that we are as confused as ever, but we think we are confused on a higher level and about more important things.
I passed this door almost every day, but for some reason this ironic, somewhat depressing quote is the only sign I still remember.
I just looked up this quote, and it turns out that it comes from the introduction to a textbook called The Workshop Way of Learning, written by Earl C. Kelley in 1951. The sentiment, though, is eternal, and it reflects exactly what it’s like to have just graduated from college or high school.
There’s no question that I learned a lot in both high school and college. Still, a lot of the time, it seemed as if the more I learned, the more confused I became. For every book I read, there were ten more books I needed to read to understand it. It was only late in my college career that I gained any sense that I was making progress.
I hadn’t answered all of my problems, and I was confused as ever, but I was finally confused on a higher level.
It turns out that most of the great thinkers in history were deeply confused about almost everything. It was their knowledge of this confusion that made them great, in fact. Albert Einstein once said, “As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it.” Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Real knowledge is knowing what it is you’re ignorant about.
This may actually be something helpful to remember as you study for your SATs. However well you do on the test, however much you feel like you know or don’t know, the test is not a compendium of all knowledge.
Or maybe you won’t find this post helpful at all. I know it sounds kind of preachy, and I know that I don’t have any real authority to tell you how you should learn. But maybe you’ll get something out of it eventually, if not now then a few years down the road. Who knows.