Imagine for a moment a terrible idea: Wikipedia.org edited entirely by one person. That’s right, only one person allowed to make changes to a page, to build the pages, to find the relevant sources and present the information.
Surely, under these circumstances the website would be much less than what it currently is. We can imagine many things that would ail a site such as this:
- Incomplete pages
- Poor sources
- Bad representation of information
- Very small amount of pages
- Not up to date with current trends, information, news
- Possibility of significant bias
This list could go on and on. Sure, someone may argue that the current Wikipedia is plagued by some of the things on this list to a smaller extent but definitely not to the level of our imaginative scenario.
The truly scary epiphany is that this situation is very similar to how our own minds work! Let me explain.
Your Mental Landscape
Through the medium of experience we amass knowledge, beliefs, ideas, values, etc. This is the personal Wikipedia of our mental landscape. We build the pages based on what we learn over time whether through formal education, informal learning, expert advice, or unreliable gossip.
Each idea or belief we have is interconnected with the rest.
For instance, take a look at this specific Wikipedia page about the Four-Stroke Engine.
As you scroll down, you will notice many hyperlinks to other Wikipedia pages. This is a beautiful aspect of the website and of the internet in general: The ability to instantly link to more information that could supplement knowledge of the current topic.
Our mind is similar.
Let’s say you are having a conversation with someone about the Four-Stroke Engine. They may have questions regarding the specifics and ask about them. They’ve clicked those hyperlinks in your mind, forcing you to dig around in your noggin for information on that topic, open a separate page, so to speak.
Your mental landscape is built up through the different “pages” you have and how “complete” they are. As such, individually we find ourselves with some rich and coherent sets of pages devoted to whatever we find interesting and then some shabby incomplete pages revolving around information we may need from time to time but really isn’t important to us.
The Burden of Curating
We are charged with the burden of editing and curating our own mental landscape, taking the time to learn, unlearn, reflect, or alter our own ideas in accordance with incoming evidence. The possible pitfalls are not unlike those ailing our single-man Wikipedia employee.
1) Incomplete Pages
We don’t get deep into a topic and have very limited information. Our lack of knowledge could be due to no interest, no use, laziness, ignorance, or what have you.
2) Poor Sources
This is a common pitfall. Often, our sources end up being pure gossip or strongly biased. Digging into those sources and testing them is a tiring endeavor, but one that truly pays off.
3) Bad Representation of Information
Sometimes we have the sources, know the knowledge, but are unable to present this knowledge when we need to. We are unable to summarize or make the information seem coherent, adding confusion to any discussion.
4) Small Amount of Pages
We refuse to build up the amount of information that would make our knowledge wholesome and enriched. More background knowledge of a topic allows us to take part in deeper discussion while also helping to solve different problems.
5) Not Up to Date
“Learning it and being done” is a common tactic for many of us, but the nature of knowledge is that it is always growing, expanding or changing in lieu of new information or technology. Keeping up to date is tough but necessary.
6) Possibility of Significant Bias
We run the risk of our “objective” knowledge being viewed through a single lens: Our own. We are naturally bias without realizing it, causing our ideas on subjects to be skewed towards one side of an argument.
The burden falls to us to moderate our own mental life. We have to be aware of the possible issues that could come about in such endeavors.
Enriching the Landscape
Curating our mental life in a positive fashion results in enrichment of that mental life. The word “enrich” not only means enhancing the quality of, but also enhancing the wealth of something. You get “more” but also “better”, high quality, information. You are up to date on current trends and well-versed in the literature backing your beliefs.
You don’t have to be an expert on everything, and that leads to some finer points of curating one’s own mind:
1) Withholding Judgment
Don’t write the page (form an opinion) until you feel like you have all the facts. If the situation does not currently need resolving and you have time to make up your mind, use that time! You don’t always have to have an opinion on something just because someone asks.
2) Know When You Don’t Know
The wise man or woman knows when they don’t know something. Don’t be afraid to have some missing pages. This is much better than believing we know something only to find out our information is very limited.
3) What Do You Value?
We aren’t super computers capable of limitless knowledge. Learning new things is always great but uses our time and energy. Put your efforts into things you believe to be important, throwing in some fun things to test your abilities every once in a while.
4) Do I Need To Know More
Learning is great. I strongly believe you should continue the struggle to learn until the day you die, no matter how hard it can be. Keep building those hyperlinks, giving yourself more background knowledge and enrich your landscape.
Handling our mental life in this way will enrich our landscape and give us much more fulfilling lives.
Some Things to Consider…
Our mind is much like Wikipedia in a sense that we have built up knowledge that is interconnected through different associations. The deeper and more coherent these associations become, the more enriched our mental landscape is.
The enrichment of our mental landscape should be one our own most important goals in life as this determines the quality of the lens by which we view our experiences. Someone who drives a vehicle with the knowledge of what is going on under the hood and what is going on around them drives with a much deeper experience than someone who chooses to remain ignorant. They are also much more likely to be able to solve important problems should they arise.
Enrichment is attained through the careful moderation of our own thinking; Knowing when to withhold judgment, when to declare ignorance, when to dig down and learn something, and what to value. This takes a self-awareness and ability to reflect upon incoming ideas and experiences.
Curating takes the courage to understand one’s own limits, faults, and biases. Done well, however, it allows a person to achieve great feats and to live wholesomely.