This morning, the dog and I were out walking along the edge of the neighborhood pond, observing two geese and a mallard. There was a breeze of about 10 mph out of the northeast. We watched the birds ride the wind as they moved south, and then chug upwind toward the north end of the pond. During the entire time we watched them troll back and forth, the geese never stopped honking.
Standing on Pugs’ Point on the east side of the pond, my mind jumped to all sorts of conclusions.
They were lost.
No, they were establishing their territory.
No, it was a couple looking for their babies.
This jumping to conclusions, a biologist might tell you, is no way to approach nature and learn from it. But I have a mind that wants the generalization first and then the details. I need the “big idea” so I can hang the details on it. Without it, details slip away.
My oldest child is just like me. He spent seven months studying the details of Biology (how do cells form and work; how does DNA work, genetics) and now, in April, they are looking at the Big Idea that pulls all these details together: evolution.
There it was, in Chapter 15 of the book, in a short note from one of the book’s authors. You have learned about cells and DNA and genetics during the year. Why? he said. Because they are the details that make up the theory of evolution.
My middle guy, he absorbs all of the details. He stores them in a file cabinet of memory brain cells and usually he will be able to retrieve those details and all of the details stored nearby at your request. He will never naturally ask, like my oldest, “So what?”
So for child number two, the two geese are honking as they troll north and south and a mallard is tagging along. Interesting, he’ll think. And he’ll file it away under “geese and duck on neighborhood pond.”
But my oldest and I, we’re no Darwins. It’s not in our nature to be captured by the details. We’d never travel around the globe, collecting observations about all the living creatures we encountered before coming to the Galapagos Islands and then, beginning to come to some conclusions about what all that living diversity means.
Nevertheless, knowing that about ourselves, we can practice, at least once in a while, noticing the details and not drawing any conclusions. Meanwhile, my other son will need to ask, at least once in a while, “So what?” so he can draw conclusions on his own, and not accept the conclusions drawn for him by textbooks and teachers.