“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” –Albert Einstein.
It is no coincidence that one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century spoke these words. Hearing Einstein’s name often conjures up the image of a genius thinking and discussing his ideas with great scientists in the gorgeous landscape of Princeton. I would like to offer another image of Einstein as a dedicated student of science, acutely aware of how little he knew relative to the knowledge that exists in the world. He was immersed in imagining and dreaming of possibilities, single-mindedly persevering, and often starting from scratch and throwing away old ideas. These habits lend themselves to a curious and highly creative mind. Had Einstein assumed he knew everything, the pondering, discussing, and “efforting” would have come to an end.
So, if we consider the quote above, we come upon a simple yet profound realization. Despite earning awards, gaining fame, and winning the adulation of peers, the mind of the student (which is lifelong) remains acutely aware of the unimaginable size of all knowledge relative to his or her own. Any sense of ego or “I know” turns to “I wonder” and a string of humble questions. We realize that no matter how well we understand something, the essence of it may still be floating undiscovered. For example we may think we understand the counting numbers, “1, 2, 3,…”. But what is 1? If 1 is not tangible, where did the idea of 1 arise? If 1 is 1 more than zero, what is zero? Zero may be “nothingness” but what is the absence of everything? These questions don’t require memorization or some specific strategy. Instead this belief that “I know a mere drop of the deep wide ocean of knowledge” draws us back to childhood when we lay on our backs and pondered about the clouds, spurred to action upon the most mundane sounds, and peered at flowing water wondering what it is made of. Our minds traveled billions of stories, hopes, curiosities, plans, and dreams all in one day. Nothing was enough and there was more to do and know – ALWAYS!
Action for this post:
Notice the activity of your mind as you work on a task: Do you assume expertise in what you do? Do you assume that everything you have learned or been taught is the only framework that exists? Do you assume that there is one and only one way of approaching things, as opposed to a myriad of possibilities? These questions purposely focus on observing assumptions. This practice of self-observation forms the basis for growth as a lifelong student.