Chinese finger traps as a metaphor for how knowledge makes you jaded

by phil on Sunday Aug 20, 2006 12:36 PM

Before I went out last night, I made sure that I had myself successfully liquored beforehand. I was suckling on a bottle of Everclear in the car, like some sort of beyond-his-ages wash-out. After that final sip that makes you quiver—the typical signal that I've had enough—I moved myself toward a bar. There, I bought a Rum n' Coke which is a cheap enough drink with more than enough ice to crush through after I've slurped the liquid. After that process was done, I was expecting to be nursing my own drunkenness. Then nothing happened.

Have you ever played with a Chinese finger trap? Usually they give this out at Chuck E Cheese's as a cheap and quirky form of entertainment. It's basically a tube of tightly folded material that when you stick your fingers into, you can't pull them out. This serves as a metaphor for my evening and a larger abstract life-experience of realizing that there are things in life that are irreversible. In the example above, you never regain your lack of tolerance for alcohol. And in the grand scheme of things, you never recover your innocence; when you get older, the number of important firsts—first loves, first kisses—is guaranteed to go down.

While this is a sad-but-true process that we all know and don't want to be reminded of, are there implications for education? The first day of an Intro to Psychology class was one of the most interesting. The professor's lecture shtick was to present a series of results in psychology that imply or lead to uncomfortable conclusions about life. For example, he talked about the psychological underpinnings of decision-making and consciousness, and soon-enough, hands from the audience started to rise up. The young students were pleading for the case of free will and the presence of a mind separate from a body. The professor responded with a Cheshire grin, mostly out of relish for having infinitely greater rhetorical chops than everybody else. Like clockwork, the debate then finally came to the issue of psychology itself, and whether the implications of the research were good or bad. And, just like clockwork, he responded with his zinger: that knowledge is neither good or bad, only application makes it so.

I don't exactly agree or disagree with this idea. On the one hand, I think it's important to hold intellectual honesty as a principle. Too often is history littered with political and religious interference with the quest for truth, and so I'm generally in support of sound principles to shield against historical blunders. On the other hand, he's wrong.

His statement is deceiving; it should also mention something about whether the integration of knowledge is good or bad. All knowledge, if it is to become really meaningful knowledge, must be integrated in some non-zero amount of humans. Even if written in academic papers that only get read by researchers, it must have, at some point, reverberated through the consciousness of a human. And that integration always creates a change in someone, and that change can lead to good or bad consequences.

And knowledge, once properly integrated, in my opinion, is generally an irreversible process. While you may change opinion from time to time, or re-evaluate previous arguments from time to time, your understanding of the situation rarely goes down in sophistication. There are exceptions, such as when you are near the end of your life and you say to yourself, "screw all this intellectual mumbo-jumbo, I'm going to believe in God dammit." But even in that moment, you'll never be able to regain the same honesty of belief that the first-time believer has had. You can never recover your belief in Santa Claus once it has been demystified with knowledge.

My fear, then, is that those people that said the statement, "too smart for his own good," may have been onto something. That I may have become jaded all the way up to and off beyond this planet. As I was leaning there, crushing ice at the bar, I was thinking to myself, "I've never understood the way this bar thing works." Even in the past, when I may have lost myself in stupors and felt brief periods of ecstasy on the dance floor, I have never been as engaged and as subsumed by the theatrics of clubs and bars as everybody else has. Same with spectator sports. Even though I have jumped and cheered for the home team, I've never lost the voice in the back of my head telling me that such activities are utterly pointless.


Teki said on March 15, 2007 10:25 PM:

Nor have I.

Kashif Ansari said on April 4, 2009 6:51 AM:

There's no doubting the fact that childhood is the golden period of one's life due to the inexperienced nature of the child's state of mind. He takes everything freshly and doesn't hold lame opinions.

Too much knowledge can for obvious reasons lead to a tired and locked-up cognitive system that can only think in blocksof blip-sized data. The organism has gone from total potentiality to semi-potentiality.

Hey, it's the second law of thermodynamics, I suppose. Things cool down for the worst (like the proverbial plastic cheese on a day-old pizza).

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