APRIL 2007 – NO. 14
Letting Go: Highschool
Our life is a forgetting
My car knows the temperature outside and gives it to me in a little green read-out above the rear-view mirror. If I press a button the read-out shifts instantly from Fahrenheit to Centigrade. I wrack my brain trying to remember how to do that-to convert one to the other-but it's gone.
Somewhere along the line I let it go.
Paul Simon sings in my head.
When I think back on all the crap I learned in highschool,
It's a wonder I can think at all.
I don't know, Paul. I'm sure I heard my share of crap in highschool, but crap is pretty hard to learn, long-term. Our minds are such sieves, such way-stations. Think how tough it is to remember the non-crap we learned in highschool, or anywhere else.
Who can tell me what Avagadro's number is, or where to find the islets of Langerhans? What is (are?) "litotes"? Which came first, the Council of Trent, the Treaty of Utrecht, or the Diet of Worms? What's quadratic about quadratic equations?
This isn't crap. This is important stuff. So are covalent bonding, Archimedes' Principle, and the Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle. But most of us are as clueless about these things now as we were when we came into the world. We might have known them once, but they slipped away while we tended to new business, and so it's come to pass that we're more likely to be able to tell arugula from radicchio than we are the Monroe from the Truman Doctrine.
Our minds have been pitching ballast overboard as we took on new freight, losing in order to gain. In have come the particulars of earning a living or how to get to Level 60 in World of Warcraft; out have gone the War of 1812, Eleanor of Acquitaine, and the Four Color Theorem. Somehow in managing to remember our email addresses, the names of Madonna's children, and the melody of "Freebird," we lost our grip on Occam's Razor and Seward's Folly. Life has taught us Murphy's Law, but in the process Boyle's Law has skipped out and taken Grehsam's Law with it.
Remember William Wordsworth? In one of his poems he said,
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.
It turns out that our life is a forgetting too. Wordsworth claimed that we come into the world "trailing clouds of glory." It's pretty clear that we travel through it trailing clouds of highschool, leaving behind wisps of what we once knew.
This stream of escaping data is a sure sign of being well, if only temporarily, educated. It's a tribute to teachers we no longer remember that we have so much to forget. Let's face it: whatever we happen to know at any given moment in a rich, full life is bound to be less impressive than all we let go in getting there. So farewell, Millard Fillmore, Archduke Ferdinand, and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Experience has shown that, like The Man With No Name in a spaghetti western, you were just passing through. So long, Silas Marner and little Effie. You've left plenty of room for Lourdes and little Rocco — along with the butterfly ballot, Jada Pinkett Smith, chaos theory, the Infield Fly Rule, and, for now, most of the words to Paul Simon's "Kodachrome."
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