musician.educator.musicologist

on Understanding Stuff

Added on by Taylor Smith.

I think I think I am smarter than I am. In all actuality, I am pretty ignorant concerning almost everything. In fact, one of the few things I can truly say that I “know” is that I only understand a few things.

My general ignorance and lack of understanding applies even to things that I am supposed to understand. For instance, I earned a PhD in Musicology two years ago. So, one could easily assume that I, therefore, know everything there is to know about music, or, at the least, know most of what there is to know about music. I would argue, though, that I know next to nothing about music. Music is a huge topic, and the deeper I dig, the more interesting mysteries I find.

This is the case with everything. Everything is more complicated than we think it is. There is more to everything than even many experts are willing to admit. It sounds cliché, but it really is the case that the more you learn about something the more you realize how much you don’t know.

 Behold, my crappy attempt at explaining who we know what we don’t know. 

Behold, my crappy attempt at explaining who we know what we don’t know. 

Most of the time, I think the “correct” answer is simply, “I can’t say for sure,” or, maybe, “It’s complicated.”

I took a general education humanities class back in 2002 or so. As a music major and amateur historian and voracious reader (back then ... I can hardly make it ten pages without dozing off anymore), I was pretty convinced that I did not need to take this class. My—admittedly idiotic—thinking was some combination of, what-could-I-possibly-learn-from-the-class and why-do-they-make-us-take-general-education-classes-anyway naïveté. I hear this gripe a lot, which frustrates me as I now totally get it; I try to remember the fact that I felt this same way when I was in my late-teens and early-twenties.

One of the best things I learned in that humanities class was the professor’s admonition that it is at the moment that you are absolutely sure of something that you are likely wrong. Re-examination is “knowledge’s” best friend. Are you certain that your ideas about how the world works are right? Time to step back and look at it again. Do you know that this or that political/social view is always superior? You’re probably wrong. I have been accused of being “incurious” or “stubborn” in the past, and those assessments were probably right. But, when I see a dead end on the horizon, my gut tells me that it is time to turn and pursue different paths, at least until I can see a reason to reassess that position; this too is probably wrong.

Sometimes I mistakenly fall back on my I-am-a-doctor-and-you’re-not or I-went-to-a-more-prestigious-school-than-you laurels, and, of all people, I should know how stupid that is. I am sorry about that. I am trying to be better.