Wisdom's conceit

My sophomore English teacher was Thomas Neal Trager (when he graded student papers he signed them TNT). He wanted us to be both liberally and practically educated. He offered the following advice: "Know something about everything, and everything about something."

Go broad, go deep, and know the difference between the two.

I'd love to know what he thinks about the Internet, the miracle of information at the fingertips of anyone able to use a search engine (see article right). I can hear TNT warn about grand illusions stemming from false knowledge.

Socrates, another teacher of mine, made a point in Plato's "Phaedrus" relevant to the Internet. A king of Egypt declined one of the gods' offers to teach his subjects how to write. "What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder," the king said. It would result, not in true wisdom. It would tell his subjects "of many things without teaching them." They will "seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing ... filled ... with the conceit of wisdom," but not wisdom itself.

The Internet proffers to the young a subtle form of hubris - access to everything equates with knowing everything. What it should suggest is humility in the face of so much information on anything and everything.

The idea of knowing everything went the way of the dodo bird. In an economy that requires specialists, many of us are thankful to know a credible amount about a given area to earn a decent living, and accept the fact we will need to continue learning to keep our jobs.

I'm sure TNT would agree. We are each our own best search engine.

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