Slow Learners

The rate at which we learn is such a limitation. People are generally at least moderately intelligent, and if we were all able to comprehend the various things that everyone else is working on, I’m sure that so many helpful suggestions would be offered that the rate of progress in almost all fields of endeavor would increase exponentially. But it is simply impossible to get people “up to speed” as it were, with any reasonable investment of time or effort.

One of the silliest moments in recent cinematic history is the scene in The Matrix in which the slug-witted Neo, having spent a somnolent interval jacked into the Nebuchadnezzar‘s LAN, pops open his bovine orbs, and announces to all assembled:

“I know kung fu!”

To one who knows from long experience exactly how difficult it is to acquire real proficiency in Chinese martial arts, Neo’s royal road to expertise seemed outstandingly preposterous, even in a movie already chock-full of dopey ideas. In mastering kung fu not only must information be learned, but the body must be conditioned as well – muscles and sinews must be transformed by thousands of hours of training before they will serve in the way that the system requires.

But the underlying notion – that a sufficient understanding of the way in which the acquisition of knowledge alters our brains might someday make it possible simply to “download” information at high speed – is certainly an enticing one, and would probably be just about the most useful scientific breakthrough imaginable. Imagine if, instead of a few thousand, millions of people knew enough about fundamental physics, or the biological underpinnings of cancer, to think creatively about them. If two heads are better than one, think what a billion heads might do with the world’s difficult problems and persistent questions.

Now if I only knew anything about neuroscience…

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