Sunday, March 20, 2011

the great wave of TMI

This image is a classic wood block print from Japan illustrating both the horror and awesome beauty of nature. One the one hand, and on the other. You can see the wave from a distance and it looks normal until you see the scale of the boats and the size of Mount Fuji.

Noted author James Gleick has written a book about the history of information which suggests that we are facing a tsunami of useless information. The following is from a CNN interview on his book The Information:
When I started writing the book, seven years ago, the initials T.M.I. stood for "transmarginal inhibition" or "Texas Military Institute" or "Three Mile Island."

I don't need to tell you what TMI means now; every teenager knows. Yet it's a paradox: how can there be too much information when information is what we want, what we value, what we live for? We feel deluged -- unable to process it all, unable to find knowledge.
And so, while I've not read the book, you can see that there is a difference between information and knowledge.

Schools are really great about pushing information. But where does knowledge come into play? If if there is knowledge, is there also a thing we might aspire to that has been called wisdom? Information can be easily quantified and measured. We make the hollow attempt to do the same thing with knowledge, but wisdom only becomes apparent in the long term. There is no direct scale for its measure.

The other day I did a post, Hold with one hand and slice carefully with the other, which is not just about the hands. In fact the brain is also divided left and right but cross laterally, so the right brain controls the left hand and vice versa. And so, while it is popular to think of ourselves as right or left brained, they do work in tandem. I had done an even earlier post about bird brains which can be found here, and which may help you to better understand the essential relationship between left and right. It may also help provide some insight into the tsunami. How can we be so terrified, and yet so enthralled with nature's power?

Schools do a very poor job of integrating left and right. Students have bodies that also long to be educated. They have creative, investigatory spirits that long to be set loose on the world, rather than restrained in deluge of TMI. Early educators saw the need to educate the whole child. But it is hard to measure the whole child. We can place performance marks on a wall, and we can compare those makings over the course of our children's lifetimes. But there are things beyond measure that are even more important to our children's success, and we forget that our teachers are teaching those things as well.

Make, fix and create. Just as these things will take both hands, they also require both hemispheres of the brain. By turning our schools into workshops and laboratories, we restore their spirit.


  1. Living in the real world -- and being open to all that life offers -- requires one to be open to all sorts of people and responsive to a host of problems, many of which have no easy answer. Education should speak to a student's hands and to his or her SPIRIT. But politicians, who depend on the marking of the bubble next to their names on the ballot sheet, are big fans of the standardized test. And how many hundred of thousands of kids grow up believing that the GRADE actually represents knowledge. It represents SOMETHING, but not the kind of knowledge that will lead to the kind of life we long for. Thanks for your blog; it's always excellent and thought-provoking!

  2. Anonymous4:44 PM

    Much of what is found on computers is not knowledge at all, and is often hardly even information. It fits into the idea of GIGO (Garbage In - Garbage Out). While Google is no doubt a wonderful tool, it's also filling the web with junk.


  3. Dear Doug:
    A short thought about this theme:

    I just came to open a screen:
    it unfolds like a green frog origami
    and each commissure split into a thousand others.
    World of thousands and a possible indentation
    Seamless world however.
    A hug.