The other day I was reading a little blurb and the author made a reference to Fibonacci. I kept reading and then thought, why do I remember him? Why do I understand the reference the author is making? I know its my love of math and ultimately my University education, so I get where I first learned it all. Number. Sequence. The Golden ratio. But why do I retain it? So much of my life I have forgotten things. Like the jeopardy question about a book that sounded familiar yet I couldn’t come up with the title or Author. How stupid did I feel when the answer was revealed and the book in question was on my night stand at the time as I was currently reading it. Why couldn’t I remember that? Is it just recall? Why do some people know obscure things while others have never heard of it? What’s the deal with this whole knowledge and memory thing? And how does comprehension come into it all? Or retention? Or recall…
I found my high school transcript the other day and frankly I am amazed I got into university. It was glaringly obvious that what I excelled at in school was not being there. Literally not attending. Because there is no way I could do so bad if I had actually shown up and done something. But then I remembered something. I wasn’t really interested in anything. Well I was but it wasn’t anything that the teachers were spewing out year after year. If I think about the knowledge that has stayed with me it was because the teacher had a unique way of teaching. Or reaching me. Grade two. I remember Mrs. Dumka taught us multiplication by using circles and addition. I wasn’t paying attention so when we had to answer a few short questions I got them all wrong. It was obvious to her what I had done wrong and she sat with me after to show me the error in my process. Took 30 seconds and I got it. Grade three I learned so much about different native tribes. Because we were encouraged to write about it. I loved to write so I spent lots of time looking things up in the library. Grade six I learned all about Watergate because every morning the teacher would tell us what had been happening. Real time. No tests. Just living history. It was exciting. She made it interesting. Grade eight the language arts teacher had each of us teach the class about a different word type, sentence structure, grammar or punctuation. We worked hard to prepare and present. I was assigned verbs. We all retained so much because we truly listened to each other. Grade eleven English the teacher loved Shakespeare and used to act out various scenes. It was hilarious and we all made fun but it stuck with me. Grade twelve I was introduced to Soren Kierkegaard by a Social teacher who wore turtle necks and had been in East Berlin. He was cool and loved to just talk with us. I learned…
It has become obvious to me that although my marks weren’t great and I was bored most of the time, some things did sink in through passive listening. I did crappy in Calculous but I remember some very abstract concepts. Perhaps I recall buzz words. It is true that I know a lot more about things that I am interested in. That just makes sense. Geography was boring and until I was on a motorbike trip in the states I never really knew where any of them were located. I had a vague idea but didn’t care. But when I was in South Dakota and was going to ride to see my sister in Washington state, I had to look at a map. And then I was just pissed off at the route I had to take. Sadly, I was twenty years old when I found out Labrador was in Canada. But I knew how to draw Saskatchewan and Alberta.
My husband did okay on IQ tests. Not great but above average. I scored really high. Part of it is timing. The tests have to be completed in a certain amount of time. My husband second guesses himself. I rely on intuition. So I answer faster than he does. I also see patterns quickly. So any question where you need to pick the next thing in a sequence, I breeze through those. He got frustrated. He retained a lot of information and was able to recall it faster than I did. I could read a book and tell him all about it. A few years later he would remember the gist of the plot of the names of the hero and heroine, whereas I would completely forget I had actually read the book. I am more of a problem solver. We were redoing the stairs to the basement and were capping the stringer. My husband was having problems figuring out the angle to cut the two pieces of wood so they would meet flush. I went to my sons room and grabbed a protractor from his geometry set. The little half circle. I used it to measure the angle. Then I took the opposite angle and divided it by two and told him to cut the two ends to that degree. It worked. He asked how I knew how to do it and I responded with “I don’t know.” I understood the basic concept of a circle being 360 degrees and went from there. I took Physics because my math teacher said I would do well because I was good at Math. Idiot. Math has rules. Follow the rules. Easy. Physics is the application of things. Not as easy. Unless you care. I did poorly in Physics. I was extremely bored.
When it came to discussions about religion my husband and I had great debates. I had a more extensive religious background and so I was able to argue my points better and frustrate him more often. When it came to politics, he had a Political Science degree so I was way behind in the subtle nuances and history of politics. That made me want to learn more so I asked him questions. But he got me every time in an argument. But here is where we differed. I kicked his butt in Backgammon as it consumed a few years of my life but when it came to Chess I never won a game. Part of it was our experiences gave us a leg up but our personalities also came into it. Backgammon is faster. He couldn’t think as fast and sort the moves. I played recklessly and impulsively but in the end my moves were automatic because of my experience. I was so bored playing chess. I am good with looking ahead but he actually memorized moves. He studied the game. I jumped in like I do with everything. I never won a chess game.
Why we know things is completely wrapped up in how we come to know things. Both of which are part of storing information and ultimately recalling it. Things get really complicated though as we age and more information is thrown at us. Some we keep and some we don’t. Often this has to do with what is already stored in our brains. And also how it was stored. If an idea agrees with what is there we keep it. It supports our pre existing arguments. That is why people don’t like to discuss controversial things. It causes cognitive dissonance. Stress. Because the other guys opinion doesn’t agree with your own ideas and it is uncomfortable physiologically. That’s why we often feel the older people get, the more they are stuck in their ways. They can’t change their minds. They will have to admit they were wrong. That causes more stress. Better to defend your opinion until the day you die. Those that use critical thinking tend to adapt easier and better because they are always bringing the info in and trying to reason it out and adapt with it. It is a way to think. It helps us to get a better broader view of the world. It is a way of being honest with yourself about the way you think and why you believe what you believe. It is important to be able to change your mind though and that is hard for some as it is a fear of being wrong. Failure.
The process of learning changes throughout our lives. As children we absorb what is fed to us and what we store in those first few years has a direct correlation on what we will think later in life. But that doesn’t mean we are trapped by our minds. I spent some of my more combative years asking why. A lot. In the end I often alienated others often because I want people to convince me. If your argument is insufficient I will need to go and do my own research. Which then helps me to decide in a rational manner without bringing emotion into the equation. Just the facts please Ma’am! The digital age has us being spoon fed information. We think we are learning but in actuality it is the dopamine rush which keeps us coming back. Newer. Faster. Go Go Go! We don’t remember phone numbers because we don’t have to. Our arguments with others include information we kind of heard once but can’t remember where. So we give an incomplete bastardized version of someone else’s thoughts. Often leaving out some important facts. We retained very little of what we read or heard. We don’t need to remember it because we can find it again quickly. Except we can’t. Instead we retained the feeling we had when the new information was stored. It validated our existing opinion on the subject. We felt good. We felt justified. We felt just a little smarter because we thought we were right. We stood a little taller. I once had a girl tell me why she didn’t read “The D’avinci Code’ for our book club. Turns out it was bullshit and completely made up. Her first sentence in her argument was “There are these people, who are like really high up in the church, and like know…” She couldn’t even tell me where she got the information let alone who these like totally smart people were. Its a mystery book. A book of fiction. It’s book club. Just read it for crying out loud.
I know most of the odd things I have stuck in my brain are actually quite common. I also realize that so much of my knowledge is from personal reading as a young person. Mainly fiction. But often, you come across a word or a concept that you don’t understand so you explore it a little further. That’s what I would do. Research. Just to understand. Throughout life though I have run into so many people intent on making me feel small or stupid. And yet others make you feel so good about yourself. Just with their reactions to your thoughts or feelings. I smoked when I was young. I was in my early thirties when I quit for good. After that I found the smell bugged me and I was vocal about hating it. An adult I knew, said I was being a hypocrite. I couldn’t hate smoking since I had been a smoker. My young son commented on it to his friend that we were having this debate in our house. His young friend just said “Well she would have to feel that way wouldn’t she. Otherwise it would be so easy to justify starting again.” He got it. I wanted to change my behaviour so I needed to hate the other side of the equation. The other person just wanted to make me feel bad. Wanted to argue for no good reason. They were feeling cognitive dissonance. Smoking although they knew it was bad for them. So they had to justify it. I know it is a convoluted example but trust me, there is a point somewhere.
I know the time will come when I won’t remember so much of what I learned in life, let alone why I seemed to know stuff. But I am confident that through taking personal responsibility for learning about the world around me I can hold my own when it comes to arguments. More importantly, by thinking about the way I think, I know that when confronted with ideas that don’t line up, I have the capacity to lay aside my beliefs and look at the other side. Truly try and analyze things that I’ve never heard or seen. I have spent my life not just learning, but examining my sources. I am not a trusting person in many ways so I need to find my own proof. In Buddhism, the pursuit of knowledge isn’t to just know stuff. To spout facts and ideas. Knowledge helps us to understand the world around us. All of our anxiety, depression and general unease comes from our ignorance. Therefore our thirst for knowledge is part of our need or desire to heal our minds. Calm them. We have all been in situations where we feel completely lost. The conversation is over our heads. Or perhaps the topic is something we have never heard of. But it appears we are the only ones who aren’t “in the know”. Our go to is anxiety. We wish to hide our ignorance. What we will find with most people is that all we need to do is ask. Most people will just then explain things and then return to the discussion. Those who treat us poorly for not knowing are often pretending themselves. Or maybe, they just see knowledge as an end result. To impress others rather than to heal themselves.
I have more time on my hands now in my retirement years so you would think I would spend more of it learning new things. Like how to load a picture onto Instagram. But no. That takes too much time and it isn’t interesting to me. That is why I have kids. And grandkids. They are keeping up with so many new things and I have learned that I need to depend on those around me. Just as there is so much I can teach them. The most important thing I have learned in this life is to question the world around me and try to understand what’s going on. How do I do that? Well with just one short question. Why?