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Do you really need to know?

Apr 30, 2018

The good lady wife and I were on top of the world whilst we were making our late evening pot of tea, you see we’d actually got a question right on University Challenge, and that was a great achievement for us. We always make it a kind of competition to see who can answer the most questions and it normally ends up in a draw with a score of zero - zero.

The pursuit of general knowledge is a very interesting phenomenon, it’s apparent that some people have a very peculiar ability, and indeed desire, to acquire and retain a wide spectrum of knowledge. Others, either find this impossible or, quite frankly, just simply couldn’t give a damn.

I wonder whether this is really the result of a kind of on-going ego trip. Take the game of Trivial Pursuit for example, a great Christmas Favourite, or as my youngest Grandson calls it ‘An opportunity for adults to show off’ - and boy oh boy can this lead to a highly fractious and adrenaline charged environment.

It was Boxing Day and a group of us were settling down to play ‘Triv’ and were busily rehearsing our appropriate smug looks whilst the youngsters were rather boringly indulging in conversation in the next room. Among others seated around the table was a mate of mine who I will call Bob, for no other reason than that that was actually his name. Now Bob and I were great protagonists on the polymath front and we were looking forward to the thrill of competition.

To cut to the chase, as they say, the game progressed and, probably more through luck than judgement, Bob’s team and my team were well ahead of the others and we had relentlessly progressed to the point where I was about to ask Bob a question………….and if he got it right, his team - who in my opinion, had been receiving the most incredibly jammy set of questions - would win the whole game (cue: slightly angered splutter).

The lights metaphorically dimmed; the dramatic music metaphorically played and the question was asked:

‘What was the name of the musical relating to the exploits of the Von Trapp family?’

‘Sound of Music’

‘Sorry Bob, it quite clearly says on my card ‘THE Sound of Music’ so I cannot award the point’

‘That’s absolutely ridiculous; whatever happened to the season of good will?’

‘Is that our next question Bob?’

I must admit that this last question did not help the situation one bit and by then the hills were really alive!

Although this whole episode was clearly a joke. I must now confess that my main purpose was to divert attention away from the fact that my arch rival had beaten me at Trivial Pursuit and I was really acting out the opposite of magnanimous.

What intrigues me about all of this is that it begs the question as to whether general knowledge is purely a question of intelligence, because we are also talking about education, learning and experience. For example, when you have a tradesman doing an odd job around the house you always seem to reach the point where he stands back and starts whistling and you think ‘Oh no!’ And then he ponders for a while, comes up with a solution and finishes the job – that’s intelligence. He also adds another £20.00 to the bill – that’s also intelligent!

So knowledge is about what you know and that comes about as a result of the aforementioned education, learning and experience. Intelligence is the means by which we apply our knowledge, either intellectually or practically.

Now I can’t finish this without introducing that great British Institution, the ‘pub quiz’ which is a welcome source of additional revenue and most entertaining for the participants. In addition, for some it’s a wonderful way of demonstrating their depth of knowledge. Having participated in a number of these I have found that quite a lot of the questions do occur time and time again. All you really have to do is learn Greek mythology; the moons of Saturn, the periodic table and Bob’s your uncle (sorry Bob!). That’s all there is to it really.

So attempting to increase your depth of knowledge is no bad thing but it’s not really going to increase your intelligence. That can only be improved by experience. I think it’s best to let Oscar Wilde have the final word here, so here’s one of his quotes: ‘Education is an admirable thing but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.’

Sounds about right to me!

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