The Matrix, and The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon
What is very, very challenging in persuading the unconvinced that knowledge of countries and capitals is important, is shown here:
It is one, random set of facts, of little use in life. You might as well ask if everyone should be able to recite the Greek alphabet.
You’re kidding me right? Sure it would be nice for people to know this, but a requirement? Absolutely not! Most people in their entire lives will never have any benefit from knowing this information.
How do you persuade someone of the benefit when they don’t yet have the knowledge themselves, and have gotten by just fine in life? That sense of ‘I don’t know x, and I can’t say I’ve ever needed to know it,’ is violently gripping.
If it’s not there how could we possibly ever know when we might have needed it… ?
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, now more often referred to as ‘frequency illusion,’ is that experience you’ve probably had where you learn about something for the first time, and suddenly see it everywhere; it’s like it just suddenly popped into existence the moment you learnt about it.
Of course it didn’t, it was all around you the whole time – The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. – you just never noticed it until now.
When we encounter something we don’t already fully know, or understand, and we are not primed to learn about it, our brain fills in the blanks so that we can carry on with whatever preoccupies us. In my earlier post I talked about this very effect happening the first time I watched The Code, when I didn’t know where Algeria was.
In the same post I mentioned a conversation involving stories taking place in Riyadh, Abu-Dhabi and Beirut; if I hadn’t known where they were, I still could have followed the point of the conversation, and nodded along, later forgetting that I hadn’t really been able to picture/place the stories properly in the world (or even recognised that they were discussing three different countries!)
I mentioned reading a blog by a girl in Syria; I would have understood that she ‘had to relocate to a new city,’ continued reading, and probably a few days later forgotten most of the article, but would not at any point have appreciated that she actually had to move to a new country, which obviously has far greater implications for the impact of the Syrian crisis.
In this speech I noted that we can never know how our ignorance has held us back in life, and therein lies the problem:
If we don’t know what we don’t know, how can we possibly make the claim that we’re better off not knowing?
‘I don’t know it and I’ve done alright’ – well sure, because much of this knowledge is not required for survival, but I would hope we strive for something more than a society of people that just survive day to day. What no-one can reasonably claim is ‘I don’t know it and I’m no worse off for it,’ because how could we ever know.