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Post details: A Case Against Excessive Knowledge

A Case Against Excessive Knowledge

Computer memory is so ample these days that you need an advanced degree in Greek prefixes to fully fathom its scope. But despite its gargantuan size, it is not infinite. Your kindly operating system will remind you of that in a clockbeat should you be foolish enough to stretch its capacity beyond the bounds suggested by the manufacturer. And since both software and data share the same living quarters on a hard disk, you have to give the sleeping arrangements some thought or the motherboard bugs will come out and byte you where you least expect it. The arithmetics of memory management is pretty straightforward. The more software you put in your memory the less space you'll have for your data and vice versa. So if you saddle your hard disk with terragobs of YouTube videos, you won't have enough memory for the software that will turn capers of your bikinied hamster into the next Internet sensation.

Brain is our little hard drive and we have to manage its resources just as carefully. The more data - from pop-culture trivia to periodic table of elements - we put in it, the fewer neurons we can employ to host our software - the part responsible for generating original ideas.

I noticed that people who remember a lot have difficulty grasping and articulating complex concepts - almost as if they had trouble seeing the forest for the trees. Their thinking slips into formulaic ruts and reduces to random combinations of the already acquired knowledge. No matter how hard you try to explain, they don't hear any ringing bells. There isn't enough space in their belfry for the cognitive dance - they crammed too much furniture into it. Creativity and imagination need some breathing room. If you ever tried to change pants in the middle seat of a fully loaded 747 you know what I am talking about.

Ideally, information would act as those green guiding lights you see along airport runways at night. They help your orientation, but they do not restrict you. If you choose to cut across a grassy patch, nothing can stop you. You may even discover a new flower. But when you learn too many things by rote, the green lights rise into impenetrable walls and you find yourself fumbling in a bizarre corn maze of data details. You have become a prisoner of knowledge.

So at the end it all comes down to a simple rule from our grandmothers' playbook: everything in moderation. And education is no exception.


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