The road to knowledge is less freeway and more winding mountain road in the Scottish highlands with unexpected turns, pitfalls, and occasional dead ends. If it were easy, it would be boring. And it wouldn’t be knowledge.
Read this quote from John Henry Newman on the idea that there are no shortcuts to knowledge. It’s a brilliant reflection on the fact that learning rarely moves in straight lines. We have to make mistakes, sometimes alone but often together, and work through those mistakes on our way to truth.
I particularly appreciated the idea that sometimes you have to live with something that feels like error for a while. We don’t have all the facts, and probably never will. So we often have to live with ideas and beliefs that have apparent holes in them, not out of a lazy unwillingness to wrestle with the inadequacies of our ideas, but from a firm commitment to pursuing a truth that is often bigger and more complex than we are currently able to understand, and a consistent hope and anticipation that we will continue to grow in our knowledge of that truth.
“There are no short cuts to knowledge; nor does the road to it always lie in the direction in which it terminates, nor are we able to see the end on starting. It may often seem to be diverging from a goal into which it will soon run without effort, if we are but patient and resolute in following it out; and, as we are told in Ethics to gain the mean merely by receding from both extremes, so in scientific researches error may be said, without a paradox, to be in some instances the way to truth, and the only way. Moreover, it is not often the fortune of any one man to live through an investigation; the process is one of not only many stages, but of many minds. What one begins another finishes; and a true conclusion is at length worked out by the co-operation of independent schools and the perseverance of successive generations. This being the case, we are obliged under circumstances, to bear for a while with what we feel to be error, in consideration of the truth in which it is eventually to issue.”
John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University (Yale University Press, 1996), p. 230