Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

magpie science

Today I'm feeling much better, after spending most of the weekend either asleep or wishing I were asleep. I'm still not quite 100 percent, though, and I'm hopeful this weariness will pass soon. I've been listening to a fair bit of shortwave radio the last few days. The world is boiling with hot news and cool jazz. I feel as though I don't know anything about anything.

I am a pseudo-intellectual magpie by inclination. I pick up a thread of learning here, a straw of idea there. I build little nests of those notions, many of which are intended to last only for the season at hand. I even chose a line of work--business litigation--in which one learns everything about one particular facet of one particular business, for a brief period of time. I speak the argot of a number of industries in which I have never worked, because I have handled cases that require me to learn select parts of those industries. When a particular case is done, I usually forget the details of the case, but keep odd little industry terms and concepts. I even have a little science background, but it is just enough knowledge to get me through the average dinner party with the average science person on the average evening.

Most days I don't mind who I am. I suppose that it is a rare luxury to be a kind of generalist in a world of specialists. But today, being a magpie seems to me slightly less desirable. Granted, I am not a cowbird, and in general refrain from stealing other birds' nests for my own devices and desires. I'm not a mockingbird, truly gifted at imitating other peoples' songs. But if my gift, such as it is, lies in stringing things together for the purpose at hand, it is rather a limited gift.

There are so many facts. I only find time to learn a few. I love birds, for example, but can only reliably "spot" two dozen species or so, when I live in a major flyway filled with diversity. Despite a hundred walks in public gardens, I still mix my flower names up altogether. I have very strong opinions, but do strong opinions really matter when I don't really know enough about anything to know what I am talking about?

There's not really much point (other than the handiness of an LJ for the purpose) in bewailing
that my knowledge tends to run broad rather than deep on any topic. I guess the thing to wonder is whether to try to be less diffuse, and more narrowly focused. But something inside me tells me I won't be a hummingbird, or a red tailed hawk. I suppose I must live with being abashed sometimes that I say so much while knowing so little, as this is who I am.
Still, it's an odd trait--an endless capacity to debate, coupled with an extremely limited depth of any kind.

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