In Praise of Ignorance



The new student came to consult with his advisor in order to establish his curriculum. The professor tried to point out to him the nobility of culture and while doing so was attempt­ing to discover the freshman’s tendencies,

“What is your prospective major?”

“I did not make up my mind yet.”

“Is there something that attracts you especially?”

“Well, you know, not really. Gee! Nothing turns me on.”

“Do you mean that everything amounts to the same for you?”

“Yeah, more or less.”

“Perfect, we are going to make out of you a Renaissance man,”

“What do you want to say by that?”

“That we are going to try a bit of everything.”

“Like what?”

“An introduction to philosophy, a course of universal history, human geography, theory of music . .

“That’s plenty.”

“And next term Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek, Latin.”

“Why all dead languages?”

“That is only the beginning, then you will take Italian, Spanish, Provençal, Catalan, French, German, Esperanto.”

“Why an artificial language?”

“To correspond with your Asiatic and Scandinavian friends, unless you prefer to study Swedish, Chinese, Urdu instead.”

“No, that’s enough for the first year. And then?


“Perhaps Biology, to know the mysteries of life, and later Physics and Chemistry, and all natural sciences.”

“That seems quite a lot”

“But you want to be an accomplished young gentleman who can hold a decent conversation when called to the Learning Skills Center for a check up”

“And what about my body? Didn’t the Ancients say “Corpore sano sine mentis?”

“You mean “mens”. No, let’s forget that, of course you’ll have to play ball, swim and lift weights but let’s not under­estimate the importance of mathematics.~

“But I know my four operations pretty well”

“With modern maths you have to start again from scratch and go up to cybernetics, randomness, stochastic series,and computer science.”

“It’s quite a program, and then?”

“Of course, you have to be introduced to the science of finance, know your economics, be able to budget the deficit of the Ministry of Treasure in the next quinquennium, perhaps even to convert your miles, pounds, gallons into their metrical equivalent.”

“Is this a new fad?”

“According to my butcher it’s a new form of torture, but how would we be able to sell our coke to the Russian before the Chinese stole our market?”

“True. But after all that can I obtain my B.A.?”

“Yes, but you have to think in terms of an M.A. if you want at least to become a garbage collector, or in terms of a Ph.D. if you want to be on the welfare payroll in 2020”

“And what else can I study if I want to be more than a Ph.D.? A member of the Academy or something like that?”

“You have to become more familiar with numismatic and pedology, philatelics and tribology, astronautics and ento­mology, Bask and Schwitzerdutsch, Ugro-Finnic languages and structuralism, linguistics and phenomenology.”

“And after that?”

“After that you can publish articles, books, treatises, essays, encyclopedias on your findings.”

“And after that?”

“After that you will be invited to the White House for a reception with Gallo wine and cheddar cheese.”

“And after that?”

“Think of God and study all religions, schismastic and charismatic.”

“And after that?”

“After that, well, after that perhaps you can rest.”

“But why také the trouble to go through all that instead of resting right now, to begin with?”


P.S.There is a variant conclusion to the story. “Besides, Professor, I know that at this point Ionesco would give me a toothache, but the Super Bowl is on, so may I be excused to watch it? We’ll continue this some other time,..”


  • An immense amount of culture that in practical terms amounts to very little out there in the world of money and survival yet so much in terms of human development.