The Need to Know

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

When I was barely underway pursuing my Associate’s Degree, the television series “Cosmos,” hosted and co-written by the late Dr. Carl Sagan, aired on PBS.  In this series, Dr. Sagan introduced science to the viewers with a flair and romance that was his signature teaching style.  Difficult concepts were presented in a manner that made them easy to digest (e.g. “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe” was one of his famous opening lines).  It was through “Cosmos” that I first learned about the great Library at Alexandria that existed there for 700 years.

Recently released on DVD is the film “Agora” which tells the story of the last days of the great Library.  Throughout the film, the scientist Hypatia was driven to understand the nature of the solar system and the relationship between the Earth and the sun.  She was compelled to find answers.  This compulsion can be traced back from today’s scientists through to Hypatia and before the existence of the Library.  It is a fundamental characteristic of being human.  We need to know.

If you are returning to college – no matter what level – you may be pragmatic in your reengaging with higher learning, e.g. you want to change careers, you want a raise.  However, there will be those courses that tug at you; courses you cannot wait to take.  In the meantime, you may be researching topics of interest on your own.  You need to know.

Today, information is readily available.  I can be uncertain about a specific fact during a classroom lecture, and within seconds, a student has looked it up and given me the answer.  There is a glut of information at our fingertips and we are the gluttons seeking that information.  Any immediate question can have an immediate answer.  The students need to know.

This is our innately human quality – that drive to understand, to learn, to delve more deeply into the subjects that fascinate us.  Whether it is Hypatia’s mathematics and astronomy or your Civil War fixation or the best soils for gardening or the practical nature of double entry accounting … keep on striving for the answers.

Perhaps it is a “new” idea that has suddenly begun to dominate your thinking.  For me, 30 years ago, it was the Library at Alexandria and the people who taught there.  For you, it could be the environmental message in the film “Avatar,” or the complexities of running for political office, or the phenomenon of “social networking.”

Whatever your passion or curiosity, pursue it with eyes wide, like a child’s.  Embrace your need to know!

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