Posts Tagged ‘Personal ignorance’

The experience of ignorance

October 15, 2014

Today I attended a meeting of the Royal Meteorological Society on the History of Climate Change Science .

It was an interesting meeting – and I will write about it another time.

But in the midst of the meeting, surrounded by experts, I was visited by an overwhelming sensation of personal and profound ignorance that filled me with despair.

  • It was the feeling of being ill-prepared for an exam – and knowing that it is too late to do anything about it.
  • It was the sickening feeling of looking over the edge into a deep, dark hole and feeling unsteady on my feet.
  • It was the feeling of looking back and realising I could have taken a different path some time ago, but now it was too late.

I felt awful. And I will not make it worse by letting you all know the particular trigger for this episode!

Of course this feeling was internal. But part of the sensation was the thought that my ignorance would be publicised and there would be some associated shame.

Why am I mentioning this?

Just remembering this feeling reminded me how powerfully destructive it is.

Reflecting on my own educational experiences. I generally ‘did well’ at school and university, and so I was rarely visited by this gut-wrenching feeling.

But I can nonetheless remember several occasions even from my early childhood when I was humiliated for not knowing something.

For example, I remember (age 10) failing to instantly the answer the multiplication question ‘6 x 7’* when asked by the head teacher.

I remember the way the numbers seemed jumbled and unclear in my head and I just didn’t know the answer. And I remember his ridiculous anger and my own public humiliation.

  • Why is it that I can remember that day so clearly all these years later? It must have made a powerful impression.
  • Why would anybody create that kind of negative feeling in the name of education? Did they think it would help?

And I guess that in many people’s educational experience this kind of maiming negative experience is commonplace.

Ignorance is inevitable

Ignorance is inevitable – no one can know everything! And in recent years I have been happy to accept my own ignorance and I have stopped beating myself up about the things I don’t know.

But the panic of re-visiting that feeling today reminded me that if one ever wants to engender a love of learning in students, then using ‘fear of failure’ as a tactic is unlikely to work.


*For those troubled by such things, the answer is 42

Two interesting things about DNA

May 18, 2011
Image of Chromosomes from a human male. Image courtesy of NIH

Image of Chromosomes from a human male. Where do these chromosomes live inside a cell? Image courtesy of NIH

Until my first child was born I had never had a Biology lesson in my life.  At my school Biology was an option and I chose Latin instead, leaving me with a lifelong feeling of inadequacy on topics biological  Timendi causa est nescire. But I have diligently read Scientific American for the last 30 years and tried hard to learn the meanings of the long words. But despite my best efforts I have always been confused about the relationship between DNA and Chromosomes. However a few weeks ago a chance comment on a Science Chat Web Site referred to two important facts that I should have known, but did not:

Fact 1: DNA in human cells is not one molecule, but 23 pairs of quite separate molecules. Whenever I have heard people speak of DNA in cells I had only ever noticed references to a single molecule. So I couldn’t understand how chromosomes – see the picture at the head of the article – were formed. Chromosomes appear to be 46 quite separate objects. Ahhhh. Now I understand. DNA just refers to the double helical structured arrangement of nucleic acids – but there are 46 important strands of DNA within each cell.

Fact 2: The 46 molecules spend most of their time in a ball in the cell nucleus. The 46 strands of DNA don’t exist as chromosomes when the cell is functioning normally. They only separate and form the characteristic chromosome shapes just before the cell divides.

This information is, I think, present in the Wikipedia article on chromosomes, but I find biological descriptions so jargon-laden that I can barely understand them! Anyway – learning these two facts, I felt like I had made progress. Perhaps soon I will be able to figure out how my children got here! Omnia causa fiunt

The relationship between strands of DNA and the structure of chromosomes.

The relationship between strands of DNA and the structure of chromosomes. The figure covers a range of magnification of about a factor 1000. Click to Enlarge (Wikimedia Commons)

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