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When they were friendly games of chess, I used to say often to my most favoured Opponent, that he had eyes, but he did not see. It was a favourite metaphor of mine for those moments when to the opponent the game looked inscrutable, where a move revealed neither rhyme nor reason. It appeared almost a casual move, nonchalantly taken to move a piece from one benign position into another, but in chess, as in life, not many moves are actually made with such iron nerve so as to leave them possessing and yet unpossessed of meaning. To understand why a certain thing has happened, you must know its functioning, its fit and how these tie together. It is the true difference between seeing and knowing.

If you have ever read the great fictional detectives they exemplify this quality. They treat nothing as trivial or transient; they pay attention to the world and understand the meaning and significance of every gesture. This is an attribute that I find increasingly abstracted from many people who wonder through life today. We’re too used to things just working, and expect too much from too little investment. If it stops working, well everyone is too busy to repair it, or find time to have a poke and prod at the issue to see what can be done to resolve it? No, now there must be an expert, his services determined either necessary or unnecessary, and the item disposed of or retained. There is no decision to invest time in discovering what can be done and perhaps applying our own ingenuity to the problem. People will persist in what they do, they will look and gaze on the majesty of the solved problem, but will never dare look at it unsolved. It is to be palmed off on another, who may use whatever tools he will. We’re not bothered with this understanding malarky.

I find this distressing because in my life I have always considered myself a practical problem solver. I enjoyed the challenge of lateral thinking, to have a go at working around the obstacle that confronted me.

What is more interesting is that I feel we’re heading this way in an age when the information you need is getting ever more easily accessible. Google, the Delphian Oracle of our Times, can bring answers to all questions if you would but supplicate before it a coherent question. If you would spend 15 minutes learning how to put in tags into a search engine, to cohere the difference between an ‘AND’ operator and an ‘OR’ operator in a search engine. To add and subtract terms and refine the search, you too would find all the information that I find, and so often seem to have to find for you.

A lot of information, of the power of knowledge, is to know where to find what you need. You have to know how to look, and increasingly I feel people do not know how to look. Such trends can only be sad, that people feel so un-empowered by knowledge that they will not go out of their way to acquire it, even when it might be useful, must surely be a disappointment.



    • Anonymous
    • Posted April 5, 2006 at 1:50 pm
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    your post reminded me of what i recently ready in immortality, by kundera:
    imagology is stronger than reality, which has anyway long ceased to be what it was for my grandmother, who lived in a Moravian village and still knew everything through her own experience: how bread is baked, how a house is built, what quilts are made of, what the priest and schoolteacher think about the world; she had, so to speak, personal control over reality, and nobody could fool her by maintaining that Moravian agriculture was thriving when people at home had nothing to eat.

    • Dom
    • Posted April 9, 2006 at 8:16 pm
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    I think we are being spoilt by the “experts”. Whenever someone designs a product today, it must be “user-friendly”, which sometimes means the user shouldn’t have to think to be able to use it. The result is that we stop thinking when we use these things and just expect them to perform their magic. And when things go wrong, we can’t do anything about it because we never knew how the “magic” is performed.

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