The illusion of an educated mind

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” (Daniel J. Boorstin)


My wife and I, like so many people in this land, often watch Jeopardy in the evening. though we are bad Americans and skip over the commercials. (Commercials are often embedded in clues on that show – there is no escape.)  The show has a reputation for being brainy, bringing on smart contestants, and I suppose many of them are. But mostly they are just good at trivia.

I have thought from time to time that I might like to take a shot at getting on the show. To do so requires taking a test, and assuming I could pass that hurdle (I make no such assumption), I would have to begin a long process of study. But what to study? There are no systematic themes running through it, as categories can be anything from literature to geography to pop culture, with more emphasis on the latter. I would have to subject myself to repeated questioning about various topics, memorizing the answers, hoping that the broad knowledge would help me get lucky on the show and face a category or two with which I have some memorized knowledge.*

It is an exercise in rote memorization without ability to connect dots, think intelligently, or challenge authority and assumptions. In short, it would be like studying for the SAT. It is the American education system in microcosm.

I would like to take a sampling of people who have done well on Jeopardy, and test them on their ability to unwind American propaganda. I would quiz them on events like Vietnam, 9/11, Sandy Hook, Boston, San Bernardino, the Snowden, Manson and OJ affairs, the current hoax regarding Zika, and see if they have been able to sift and see through them. My guess would be no, that these winners exemplify the whole point of our education system, a fact-rich non-thinking environment.

Perhaps that’s why the show enjoys continuing popularity. It gives us ignorance in the form of illusion of knowledge.
*Cliff Claven on Jeopardy(Cliff Claven, a character on the TV show Cheers, was fortunate in that all six categories on the night he appeared were about beer. He ran up a score of $22,000 in and blew it all when the Final Jeopardy question was on another topic.

Also, has anyone but me noticed that Alex Trebek is a disappointment in terms of personal engagement? After decades of exposure to trivia, he seems unable to carry on a conversation, and has at best a hokey-pokey sense of humor. I suppose that makes him perfect host for the show.

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