I never fail to get a kick out of the way my mind has a mind of its own. There are things I know that I don't know I know, tucked away in the depths of those "little grey cells," waiting to be called forth, or more likely, to bubble up at random times, unbidden.

For example, there was the time I saw an interesting-looking butterfly flitting around the garden, and into my mind popped, "It's a gulf fritillary." I had no idea I knew what a gulf fritillary butterfly was, but I know I'd seen the identification before, having quite long ago made a book about butterflies for our grandchildren. It was there in my mind, somewhere, even though I could not have voluntarily recalled that information.

Then there was this, quite recently: I had just finished reading C. S. Lewis's Surprised by Joy, and when my eyes passed over the title of the book on our kitchen counter, my mind filled in, "Impatient as the wind." After a moment's wonder, I realized that I was quoting a poem, and my next thought—again unbidden—was, "It's probably Wordsworth." Which, I later confirmed, it is. I have no idea from what depths that knowledge was dredged, nor why, at this particular time and place, it came to me.

Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

I had been looking at the book and its title multiple times a day for several days, yet never once in those previous days had the poem come to mind.

I'm reminded, also, of the time early in her mathematical education, when our younger daughter cried out in frustration when I—dutiful teacher!—asked her to show her work, instead of just writing down the answer to the problem. "I can't show my work!" she exclaimed, "There is no 'work'—there is just the answer!"

I think we all know a lot more than we think we do—not everything we learned went in one ear and out the other. The problem is not so much knowledge as retrieval. It's all the more interesting to me because one of our grandchildren appears to have this undependable retrieval system under much better control than most of us: When he learns something, he knows it and he remembers it—at least a lot better than most of us do. How does that work?

And what other fascinating facts are there, sleeping in the recesses of my brain, that I know but don't know I know until they choose to reveal themselves?

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 1, 2019 at 7:24 am | Edit
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