As you went back to school this week, one of you posed the question kids have been asking since the dawn of educational time: “when am I ever going to use this stuff?”
You had in mind the contents of your lessons: the facts of history and the functions of algebra. But when I think of learning stuff, I think of something different.
The world’s most precious material
Between your ears and behind your eyes lies the world’s most precious material–a few pounds of “grey matter” that’s somehow capable of conceiving everything from intergalactic explosions to subatomic particles, from fabulous fictional confederations to factual (if even-less-believable) party politics.
You can use this stuff to imagine impossibilities and invent realities, to dream of dragons and do long division, to quibble over questions of virtue and solve quadratic equations. It can speak any language you teach it, understand any story you read it, remember times past and envision times future while simultaneously tracking the (specious) present.
It can communicate and collaborate across time and distance. It can bring the words and deeds of the dead back to life. It can recognize faces and voices, discern fine distinctions of color and sound, make music and paintings and sculptures and scrumptious dinners (not necessarily in that order).
Its limits are literally unknown–because every time someone seems to find the edge of what it can comprehend, someone else breaks through and redefines reality.
It’s the nearest thing we know to an actual magic elixir–a substance that can transform lead into gold, matter into meaning, mere words into work and (sometimes) even wisdom.
And it’s all yours
The kicker, of course, is that a portion of the world’s most precious material–an allotment roughly equal to everyone else’s–has been given to you alone. It’s yours to do with as you choose, to shape into what you will.
But with great gifts come great responsibilities. If you want to make the most of your mental matter, you have to feed it a diverse diet, and you have to give it regular exercise. If you want to see it gain, you’ll have to accept some strain. No pain, less brain: it’s pretty much that simple.
That’s what you’re going to school for. Because it’s the best chance you’re ever going to get to work magic–to turn a blob of matter into an artist, a writer, a scientist, a teacher, a CEO or other VIP. It’s the best chance you’re going to get to build a brain capable of accomplishing all you can be.
In other words, you’re not really going to school for the sake of the stuff you’re learning. You’re going for the sake of the learning stuff inside you. It’s already the world’s most precious material, but it’s up to you to shape it into something even better. It’s up to you to make it your own mind.
Let me know if you need any help. I’ve been tinkering with my own mind for years.