Gerald Stanley Lee on mislearning

Draft of 2008.06.07 ☛ 2015.03.27

Another gem from Gerald Stanley Lee, once again from The Lost Art of Reading, GP Putnam’s Sons, 1903. Via Odd Ends.

As with all Gerald Stanley Lee’s writings, modern readers should say it aloud, with the innumerable commas enforced breaths. The poetry of the drawl, the long list of phrases, makes the modern limited mind lose the thread and start casting abut for imaginary sentences that don’t exist.

Read aloud. Preach it. Then go read the rest of his work.

Symbolic Facts

If the meeting is to accomplish anything before it adjourns sine die, everything depends upon the gavel in it, upon there being some power in it that makes some facts sit down and others stand up, but which sees that all facts are represented.

In general, the more facts a particular fact can be said to be a delegate for, the more a particular fact can be said to represent other facts, the more of the floor it should have. The power of reading for facts depends upon a man’s power to recognise symbolic or sum-total or senatorial facts and keep all other facts, the general mob or common run of facts, from interrupting. The amount of knowledge a man is going to be able to master in the world depends upon the number of facts he knows how to avoid.

This is where our common scientific training—the manufacturing of small scientists in the bulk—breaks down. The first thing that is done with a young man nowadays, if he is to be made into a scientist, is to take away any last vestige of power his mind may have of avoiding facts. Everyone has seen it, and yet we know perfectly well when we stop to think about it that when in the course of his being educated a man’s ability to avoid facts is taken away from him, it soon ceases to make very much difference whether he is educated or not. He becomes a mere memory let loose in the universe—goes about remembering everything, hit or miss. I never see one of these memory-machines going about mowing things down remembering them, but that it gives me a kind of sad, sudden feeling of being intelligent. I cannot quite describe the feeling. I am part sorry and part glad and part ashamed of being glad. It depends upon what one thinks of, one’s own narrow escape, or the other man, or the way of the world. All one can do is to thank God, silently, in some safe place in one’s thoughts, that after all there is a great deal of the human race—always is—in every generation who by mere circumstance cannot be educated—bowled over by their memories. Even at the worst only a few hundred persons can be made over into reductio-ad-absurdum Stanley Halls (that is, study science under pupils of the pupils of Stanley Hall) and the chances are even now, as bad as things are and are getting to be, that for several hundred years yet, Man, the Big Brother of creation, will insist on preserving his special distinction in it, the thing that has lifted him above the other animals—his inimitable faculty for forgetting things.

[Both emphases mine.]