The Guilty Party

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I Guess It's Good to Know That...

...I'm Really Quite Ignorant

I have developed what I think is a pretty effective immunity to most of the commercial messages that we are all bombarded with damned near every waking hour of our days. It is the rare advertisement that makes me sit up, pay attention and actually yearn for whatever product or service is being hawked. A flyer advertising a promising sounding local restaurant (a species that up until the past couple of years has been rare indeed in Arizona's third largest city) can catch my eye, especially if a generous introductory coupon is attached, but other than this sort of appeal to the fairly unsophisticated but enthusiastic gastronome in me most solicitations head directly into the recycle bin.

An exception to this rule showed up in our mailbox almost a week ago in the form of a fifty page catalog featuring products that, although they are presented like darned near everything from hybrid automobiles to reinforced toe socks as possessing qualities that will make my life better--a claim we all know is, in nearly every instance pure nonsense and snake oil--in reality brought into sharp focus how many doors there are in this world and how few doorknobs I have even put hand to and jiggled. Within those fifty pages are offered sixty-eight of those doors and darned if I can stop looking at them, wishing I had the time, the funds and, probably most importantly, the determination to bust open those doors and explore, absorb and generally dance amongst everything on the other side.

This fifty page, in-my-face reminder of just how little I know or am likely to ever know, even if I had generous amounts of not only time and money, but determination, is called The Great Courses. Their catalog offers audio and video lecture series on everything from Argumention: The Study of Effective Reasoning, 2nd Edition to Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy, (also) 2nd Edition. For just $39.95 ($59.95 for the DVD version) I can attend, without having to go anywhere, twenty-four lectures by Professor David Zarefsky of Northwestern University and benefit from his insights regarding Argumentation and Rhetoric, Establishing Correlations, even Arguments between Friends. And at any time I can switch gears completely, settle into my favorite easy chair and be enlightened by Professor Alex Filippenko of University of California, Berkeley on the subjects of The Fingerprints of Atoms, White Dwarfs and Nova Eruptions, Cosmic Powerhouses of the Distant Past and ninety-three other astronomically fascinating subjects. And of course if I want to put this big, big picture into human perspective one of the fifteen philosophy or religion courses is bound to be just the ticket, I'm thinking maybe No Excuses:Existentialism and the Meaning of Life.

Problem is, while I'm bouncing between those three courses I will all the time be wondering if my time wouldn't be better spent dipping into The Joy of Mathematics (well, okay, probably not) or The Story of Human Language (that's more like it!) or any of the other sixty-plus courses on the menu. I know I would love to dive into Professor Peter N. Stearn's A Brief History of the World and see how it differs from say, Mel Brooks' version.

The lesson here, and yes, there is always a lesson, isn't there? is that life really is too short. I can't know all of this stuff. There's just too much of it and too little of me. There is some solace in the fact that while Professor Sean Carroll may very well be one of the leading experts on Dark Matter, Dark Energy: The Dark Side of the Universe, he probably could learn a thing or two from Professor Robert Greenberg about Understanding the Fundamentals of Music.

And I could probably teach both of them a thing or two about How to Handle a Customer Making Unreasonable Demands or The Best Way to Merchandise a Department When Half the Items are Out of Stock. Maybe I'll send a syllabus to The Great Courses folks and see if they want to expand their offerings.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

1 comment:

Timberati said...

We've been tempted by those too. Don't they look interesting?

A Bit About Me

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I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.