Tuesday, February 26, 2013

tom and jerry -or- how i know what i know

last night at dinner, as part of our usual type of dinner conversations, jackson was explaining to us in detail the instrument of beheading known as a guillotine.  only he didn't know what it was called.  what he did know, however, was a great amount of detail regarding the workings of the death machine, including the way the rope was secured, the way the blade functioned, and the overall design.  i was intrigued that he knew so much about this, and was wondering why they had gone into such detail about this in 2nd grade.  so i thought i would applaud his attention to detail and obvious listening skills before proceeding to ask what was the context for learning all of this.  the conversation went something like this...
 
me: "wow!  you really know a great deal about guillotines.  that's amazing.  what are you studying in school that you are learning so much about them?" 
jack: we're not learning that in school.
me (genuinely surprised): oh.  well then, where did you learn all this about guillotines?
jack:  i saw it on tom and jerry.
 

he saw it on tom and jerry.  that's right.  everything my son knows about  capital punishment he learned from a needlessly violent cartoon from 1952.  

i could just wrap this up with some version of "kids say the darndest things" and hit the post button and be done with it.  except for one word that keeps bouncing around my head: 

epistemology.  it's basically the study of knowledge, or, at least in one way of looking at it: how we know what we know.   and jackson's little exercise in speaking authoritatively with his cartoon research fully leaned upon got me thinking about how i know what i know.  i mean, when i speak authoritatively, which i have been known to do, but in and out of pulpits, i suppose, what research am i leaning upon?  i sometimes wonder if, in the end, the greatest source of knowledge isn't our own experience.  i can read until i am blue in the face, and watch every movie about courage or character or conviction, but until i am forced to live through something that tests all three, i doubt i will have very much to say about any of it that is of any substance.  actually, i might have much to say, but it would be about as useful as trying to have a sword fight with a mouse, just a bunch of flailing about in empty air. 

"but this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us" 1 john 3:16

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