Knowledge is Power

I challenge us to consider the common phrase, knowledge is power.

Knowledge is power, when it is wielded to advantage. I came to consider this caveat a few months ago, when my wife challenged me with the question, “What are you going to do with all of the books that you read?” What was left unsaid in her question was, what would I do with the knowledge that I gained from reading the books?

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I have been pondering that question since last autumn, and I do not yet have an answer. Last June, when the Discovery Channel ran the special Krakatoa: Volcano of Destruction, I reserved a Sunday evening to watch the show. During the two weeks leading up to the show, I read every book on Karatoau and volcanoes that were in my county library, which is ranked first in the nation among great public libraries. Since then, I have had a simmering interest in geology, and I have read a few dozen more books on the general subject. This behavior is not unusual for me…I frequently find a topic piquing my interest, and I delve into it obsessively.

But, so what? What will I do with my broad introductory knowledge of geology and volcanism? I do not yet have an answer. My family and friends invite me to be on their team, when we play Trivial Pursuit, and I win our annual family vacation game of Who can state the most esoteric fact?…although, I have a wife and sister-in-law who give me a run for my money!

I am filled with questions, and I create new questions to be answered, throughout the day. I write my questions and queer tidbits of data in a small notebook that I carry in my backpack; here are a few examples:

  1. Orthography: writing system
  2. Orthoepy: pronunciation (phonology)
  3. Out of a group of 23 people, there is a 75 percent chance of two sharing the same birthday.
  4. There are an estimated 100 billion stars in a galaxy, 100 billion galaxies in the universe; the universe is 13.8 billion years old.
  5. A. Einstein wrote, "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."
  6. Galileo’s principle of relativity: So long as one is moving at a constant velocity, there is nothing one can do to measure the speed of motion–or whether motion exists at all.
  7. Coins (money) have milled edges to prevent counterfeiters’ clipping off edges to make new coins.
  8. There were 250 individual languages and cultures in North America at the time of Columbus’s landing.
  9. Stochastic resonance is the physical noise from solar variations. Stochastic resonance is also used as background noise to improve faint signal reception in both electronic and audio transmission.
  10. Fluctuations in the height of the oceans may explain the 10,000-year periodicity of Earth’s ice ages.

I have created a world for myself in which I can explore topics that have immediate interest; however, I have not yet figured out how to put the knowledge that I gain to advantage (other than by making interesting dinner conversation and winning at a board game).

On the other hand, I also delved into the learning and thinking about the application of information technology, specific digital technology, with the same passion, and I was fortunate to build two businesses from this knowledge (and eventually return to academic teaching).

I encourage us all to be passionate about learning and to constantly seek applications for our knowledge.


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