The knowledge sponge – chaos and order and why does a banana have two ends?

For me, one of the best things about being human is having an enquiring mind.   I have the sort of brain that reacts to knowledge as a sponge does to water, that is to say it sucks it up with enthusiasm. Of course to get at it you need an extraction system and the brain doesn’t necessarily take kindly to being wrung out over a bucket.   I imagine the inside of my head as an infinite library system in which is stored all the knowledge I’ve come across in my lifetime (and maybe in several previous ones for all I know – consciousness as a quantum state?).  When I want to remember something I picture the librarian dispatching a functionary on roller skates into the labyrinthine caves of racked information to find the bit I want and bring it back.  It works for me!   I learnt about the central nervous system at school and the names of the two types of receptors stuck – nicotinic and muscarinic – classified by me as the tobacco and wine responses, at the time I learnt this stuff at school my extracurricular activities were focussed around experimenting with these particular substances (I told you it works for me I didn’t say it works normally).

So my brain is a complex dynamics system within which small perturbations (thoughts, ideas, experiences) cause changes in the sequence of iterated functions (firing up of neurons) resulting in a state of chaos resulting in unlikely connections being made.   We’re back looking through the other side of the eye of the needle.

I believe we need to cultivate this chaos, however, we also need to control and categorise the results in order to make sense of them; to reduce them to something useful.  No good leaping out of the bath shouting ‘Eureka’ if by the time you’ve got to your desk you’ve forgotten what it was that was so brilliant.   I once woke up in the night with the realisation that I had had the most profound insight and quickly scribbled a few words so that I would not forget it.  In the morning I picked up my notepad and read ‘a banana has two ends’.   I raised this with my friend as we cycled to work and he gave me the sort of look that is the preserve of those who have known you a very long time and still like you and simply said ‘what were you smoking last night?’  That was the point in my life when I realised I was not Nobel Prize material, more Cheech and Chong than Einstein or Archimedes, they’d have written it down and it would still have been brilliant at breakfast time (actually that also goes for Cheech and Chong it would just have been a different kind of brilliant).

Any way the perturbation that sparked off this random scribbling was reading an insightful blog by Frausto about being labelled as a ‘Latino’ how that label is used to define him and at the same time limit him.    It struck me that this sad and limiting not only for the person being labelled but also for those doing the labelling.  We all do it to some degree and it must arise from the function of the left hemisphere of our brain to categorise the world.  Now that is a necessary part of being human and if it doesn’t get in the way of the bigger picture it does no harm and potentially quite a lot of good.  Categorising is an essential part of understanding the world.  What is wrong here is that the labelling has got in the way of the bigger picture.

I worry that this seems to be an increasing phenomenon not only in respect of the idiocy of defining people simply by their ethnic origin (if it’s even that rational) but also by an increasing dominance of classification as the driver of our civilisation.  We are making the component bits more important than the whole; Latino or Anglo more important than human.   This has profound implications for all of us; already the acquisition of knowledge by experience is being downgraded in value in favour of knowledge by description.  Skills are broken down into a series of tasks and systems replace judgment, people are regarded as resources and society becomes more fragmented, social mobility slows and reverses and the gap between rich and poor steadily widens.  Somehow we are becoming unable to embrace the bigger picture.  To reduce the world to mere order is to lose something essential that makes us fully human.  A society where there is no room for chaos thinking or appreciation of the bigger picture will not help humanity.

So equip your Glia’s with roller skates and get them busy in your brain there’s at least a 1,000 terabytes of data storage in there (the US library of Congress has about 10 terabytes) – make random connections and don’t accept the world is anything other than a place of unlimited possibilities.  It doesn’t matter what the box is labelled, look inside – you don’t know what you might find.

Also why does a banana have two ends?

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