The Truth is Out There, But It’s Boring

Considering that I’m a humanities major, I actually know very little about what makes me a human. I have no idea how anything inside me works: how my legs receive a coded transmission from my brain when I put a foot forward or a hand into the cookie jar, how my endocrines do the nifty stuff they do, how my circulatory system functions in tandem with the orbit of the sun, or revolves around the hemo-Globe, or whatever. I suppose it’s because I’ve always been more taken with Ms. Frizzle than with Gray’s Anatomy that the inner-workings of the body remain so strangely inconceivable. Sure, I’m willing to explore the starry universe of internal medicine from an imaginary school bus, but I’m unlikely to study the actual science behind the magic.Now, by way of explanation, I like to think I’ve spent my education on the more nebulous mysteries of human life. (Not how does a heart beat, but why does it hurt? Not what muscle is strongest, but which argument about the frailty of human relationships holds up the best under scrutiny? Not which regression analysis fits this model, but how does…etc., etc.) But I’ll be the first to admit that for all this intellectual exercise, I’ve got no knowledge of the kinesthetic.I’m well aware that many other students know plenty about micro-bio and the cellular levels of life. More to the point, I know that my modern existence depends on these people figuring out not just how things can work but how they can work even better—finding answers to trenchant problems and developing new technologies and medical breakthroughs and fast cars. Even as I eschew exactness and hard facts and have managed to avoid math for nearly four years, I haven’t forgotten that the world is battery-operated and runs on powerful and particular equations.As such, we place a high premium on gathering information. That’s why we invented the Internet, which for its acai berry conspiracy theories and get-rich-with-six-pack-abs schemes, really does have a lot of answers. After all, there’s no question that Google can’t anticipate.But there’s a certain thoughtlessness and boring predictability to search engines. It’s Ask Jeeves, not Consult Nietzsche. You get a quick straightforward answer, but not one that stimulates discussion. The emphasis is on expediency and certainty. Between the near instantaneous info-services of Kindle and Zappos and Babelfish, what will happen to curiosity? There was something wonderfully innovative about inconvenience and the slow search. About not having and not knowing right away, at least. About being so unsure that you had to make up a story or a route in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Maybe a piece of me longs for the days of the card catalogue and the abacus, the moleskine notebook and the compass; a time when the mind was free to wonder and wander, to soar unbound by the demands of immediacy and correctness. I think about my family’s annual Thanksgiving game of Balderdash, which we play in order to determine who is the best/cleverest liar. It’s really a delightful board game in which the players attempt to deceive each other into believing a false definition of an obscure word. I hope I’m not boasting when I say that I come from a gene pool very adept at dishonesty. Every “tiddliwink” and “plangent” inspires a myriad of inventive and misleading definitions.Not to skoob on my family too much, it’s all in good fun.The greater lesson Balderdash instructs is that the right meaning of a word isn’t always the best and that reality can be limiting and rather dull. In the quest to perfect human knowledge, we’re sometimes too focused on searching for concrete answers, fighting off creativity with the stone cold truth. We shouldn’t be so afraid to depart from serious fact and verifiable information in favor of a little fiction.So here, I’ll wish you a Merry Christmas, because believing in magic is never more pertinent than during the Holiday Season. There’ll be plenty of Scrooges out there who like to torment little children and college students. They’ll say Santa is only an iPhone application and the world outside your undergrad academic cocoon is frighteningly real and fast approaching, so it’s best to understand the severity of the financial crisis. Instead, we should embrace Jack Frost and Snow Men and Rudolph and economic recovery, because every myth is a sign of great human imagination at work, and more importantly, at play.

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