The arrogance of knowledge

It is common for university students to think that they “know it all.” As far as they know, they’re right. Contemporary education encapsulates a little bundle of knowledge and gives a very shiny diploma to those who understand that bundle well enough.

That is an imperfect system. Students are taught (not explicitly but implicitly) that there is a definite quantity of information to be learned, that it can all be learned, and that you can arrive at a state of completion. A student nearing the end of a successful, lifelong career in studying would be hard pressed to find reasons not to be arrogant. After all, he learned everything, and has nearly arrived at the final confirmation of his mastery over all knowledge.

Here are three truths that dispel the three fallacies above:

  1. There are no limits to knowledge. The more we know, the more we discover that we do not know. It’s a simple concept, but Dunning-Kruger explains 80% of human interactions.
  2. Because there is an unknown quantity of information to be learned, we do not know if we can learn it all. But it’s probably a good guess that you cannot.
  3. Since there is no way you can learn it all, you are never done learning. Yes, you have your diploma. You’re certified to know the very basics. Grats. If you never learn anything else, you’ll never be any smarter than a recent college grad (do you know poorly most employers esteem the intelligence of a typical recent grad?).

Bonus truth: you forget very easily. I took 30 credit hours of classes to meet the requirements for my undergraduate major. I can recall maybe 30 bits of information, and I’m sure I’d recognize quite a bit more, but the truth is that we all forget even very important things.

As a potential tonic for your knowledge-induced arrogance, ponder the three point above, and chase it down with a brief viewing of this 2:33-long video on the topic of Olēka:

How to fix your broken friendships in nine easy steps

1. Recognize that you have messed up. Words said and deeds done, or words unsaid and deeds forgone, hurt and disappointed those to whom you had a responsibility to love. This first step is unpleasant, but it won’t become easier with time.

2. The consequences are irreversible. Your friends’ perception of you has changed; further changes can add, but not remove, to that perception. History is fact. This is a difficult intellectual concession to make, but it is necessary to understand the true impact of your failure.

3. Recognize that such failures are human. You are not perfect, and neither are they. Such problems will occur to all, and aplenty, and everyone has played the role on either side of those irreversible events. This will help in the following crucial step:

4. Forgive yourself. You won’t be able to continue in this process without it. You won’t make it through life, either, if you allow guilt to crush you. You’ll properly show your sorrow in a short while, but not if you can’t forgive yourself. After all, if you can’t do it, why ask the offended party?

5. Beg forgiveness. This is humbling. It’s entirely out of your control whether the people you hurt or disappointed will want to let bygones be bygones, whether they will ever trust you again, or whether they will even want to have anything to do with you. So beg, and appeal to God that they might not harden their hearts against you.

6. Demonstrate a fundamental change in yourself. Go to any length to reassure your friends that you do not take them for granted and will not fail them again. They say that a bone, once broken, can be stronger at the mended fracture than before. So is friendship. Your commitment to doing what is hard for the sake of your friends might instill a greater love for you than if you had simply never offended in the first place. You will find that to the measure you truly grieve your error, to the same degree you will be glad to pay this penance.

7. But if all this is not so, if you have truly ruined your friendships and they no longer want you to be part of their lives, move on. You’ve done enough harm. Perhaps go far, or perhaps just far enough that they do not object to your presence. The important thing is that if the friends you hurt do not want you near, you must respect their wish. As small and insufficient an atonement it might be, it is all you can give.

8. Get support from anyone who is willing to help. Don’t underestimate the benefit of using a kind and supportive voice. In a sense, you’re a victim of your own error, since you also are suffering from it. You don’t have to do it alone, you know. Receiving help will not invalidate your earnestness.

9. Find new friends. Start something new. You’ve learned a great and dearly-purchased lesson in friendship. Don’t keep it locked up where it has no value, but go give it to someone else. It will help with forgiving yourself, with moving on, with living outside of the shadow of guilt. And when next someone hurts or offends, you’ll remember this and be more than happy to forgive.

On being humbled, again

I found myself in that spot again. That situation in life where I suddenly realize my arrogance has been festering, and God himself is opposing me in my pride. A reading of James 3-5 convicted me of it.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

(James 4:1-4 ESV)

He opposes me, but does not destroy me, because he is patient and merciful. His opposition is meant to turn me from sin and wickedness, and to him, who not only forgives, but is powerful to save me from my chronic sinfulness.

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

(James 4:5-6 ESV)

Praise God! He is faithful even when I am not faithful to him. He is patient and does not pass judgment on me, and in his wisdom saves me from rightful consequences. And he is relentless, because he does not give up.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. … Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

(James 4:7-10 ESV)

So I am humbling myself. Again. How many times have I been here before? How many more times will I forget that the Lord is good to me? But God does not give up on me, and so I refuse to stay down and not try again. If I have any hope, it’s in him, and he promises to exalt me when I humble myself before the Lord. Yes, in my circumstances this is clearly my only hope: to humble myself.

I still remember that night when I prayed to God to never let me be drawn away from him, but to do everything in his power to bring me back to him. I gave my life to him, saying that nothing is as important as he is, and that he could remove or destroy, as he sees fit, any thing, person, or ambition that separates me from himself, or that causes me to be disobedient or displeasing to him. And so he has. It is often unpleasant, but I am always grateful after the fact. And in this particular circumstance, too, I am grateful, even though I still feel his opposition against me.

As I have often said, life is like a trip to the playground. The great cruelties and abuses inflicted on toddlers as they have their toys taken away, or are pushed into the sand pit, or are finally picked up and taken home by their parents against their will… these are apt metaphors for this life. I would never trade my relationship with my parents for another hour spent playing in my childhood; I would not trade closeness to the Lord for mere worldly comfort. The metaphor breaks down because what happens on earth does have eternal significance, but it is accurate in that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is being prepared for us for eternity.

I hope this does not seem so extreme to my non-believing readers. I can endure to lose everything for God’s sake because the perspective of a disciple of Jesus is much bigger than the limited scope of our natural lifetimes.

This is probably the most personal post I have ever published. If this isn’t your cup of tea, I’m sorry to say that there is more where it came from; please consider unsubscribing/unfollowing this blog.

On the anxiety of building my personal web site

This post has moved to a new home! If you're interested in Ivan's technology-related ramblings, please see!

I have discovered that I have been feeling a great anxiety over the looming task of building my web site ( There’s nearly nothing there right now. I’d like to make it something, an extension of my personal brand. It’s kind of important! And so I panic, because in my mind I see visions of grand design, subtle visual effects and masterful content organization.

Well, that’s all nonsense. I don’t have a brand yet, so I can’t do a poor job of redesigning it. There is no established user base to be confused by a dramatic change in layout and style. And there’s certainly no content to be lost in poor navigation. My anxiety sprouted from that mixed blessing of perfectionism which drives me to make everything right the first time, for all time. In truth, I am as free as I could possibly be to make any web site that suffices my needs.

And that’s really the key word. Suffice. One of the few bits of knowledge I gained from my education is that iterative prototyping is a better way of arriving at excellence than building on assumptions and unproven theories. Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell also seem to think this applies to life in general. So perhaps I’ll make a series of barely-sufficient sites, or slowly improve on the initial one over time. The important thing is to stop panicking because my goal is not to make a masterpiece.

Things in the fridge

When things go bad in the fridge, how long do they stay before tossing them?

When you stop wearing old clothes, how long do they stay in your closet before getting donated?

When you have useless junk in your house, how many years go by before you throw it out?

Seems there’s a pattern. Might be hoarding, might be something deeper.

Applies to things. Applies to life.

When you realize you’ve been hurting yourself, how long before you kick the habit?

When you realize the company you keep does not challenge you to grow, how long before you search for people that do?

When you realize you’ll die in a few decades, how long before you stop wasting your days?

Questions to ponder. But pondering is just the first step. Once you have the answers, will anything change?

Be right back. I have to clean out my fridge.