Cast your mind back with me. You start college. You hope to do sixteen credits. Four of them are for your major. Four for major prerequisites. Maybe calculus. A lab course. A seminar to familiarize you to your field. A PE course to keep you from turning into a lump. If you are smart, you take something broadening such as a history class or introduction to psychology. That’s it. And you have too many credits. You may have to drop something. Not your major. You may try a class you don’t expect and discover a passion. Maybe linguistics or math. If this happens either you regretfully neglect it or change majors. Either way it puts you behind. You are not well rounded. In fact you are specialized. If you discover the afternoon lectures, maybe the Physics colloquium, you have less spare time.
That’s your first year. Maybe your second as well. If you are not wealthy you are in a race to graduate before you run out of money. Often if your parents are wealthy too. They want to see progress. You become more focused on your major. There is a lot to know in any major and, say, ten courses are not enough to cover many tricks and wonders. The buffet of other interests must be neglected if you wish to graduate in a reasonable time. Pray to god you don’t fall in love. That will really put you behind.
You end up knowing one field a bit and one specialty a bit better. A handful of interests you know well enough not to sound foolish. If you chose wisely you can earn a living. You are a college graduate. If you chose poorly, you are still a college graduate, but you cannot find a job in your field. You realize that while you are more educated, you are not smarter. Wisdom begins. You begin to appreciate the difference between education and training. Often training is more in demand than education. Nobody cares about philosophy. The cretinous Philistines.
You are proud and happy. Then disaster strikes: ‘Now you are educated tell me about – something.’ You cannot maintain that the subject is unimportant. But you never studied it. So you fake it. Can you pull I something from history? Derive from first principles? Did something get said one of those nights when everyone was sitting around talking? I remember Dad asking. ‘How big are we really in the universe?’ I wanted to cry. He didn’t mean 1.83 meters. He wanted to know some cosmic meaning of which I was ignorant. Which I did not believe existed.
The socially smart thing is to figure out what smart people are supposed to believe this week and parrot it. Atheism, the Gaea Hypothesis, Complexity Theory, whatever. You don’t want to let down important people by saying ‘I have no idea. I didn’t study that.’ You need to appear smart. Reasoning from first principles is dangerous. What if you come to a conclusion that is unfashionable? Nobody was ever ridiculed for saying what the smart set on television said.
And you are trapped. You can’t keep changing your mind without letting on your ignorance. Many people believe what they say. They find cognitive dissonance to be painful. Besides, can you really remember the reasons for all the things you learned? Could you do all those proofs in Calculus again if you tried?
Your income is based on being educated. Don’t undermine that.
It’s probably true.