Letter: General knowledge: a trivial pursuit?

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The Independent Online
Sir: I beg to differ with Susan Elkin ('Trapped in a strait-jacket of general ignorance', 15 April). Children, or anyone for that matter, can only maintain a constructive conversation by possessing some degree of intelligence, and knowledge of the subject. This 'knowledge' is not picked up by knowing names, dates, doing crosswords, and Trivial Pursuit (hence its name).

The theoretical physicist Richard Feynman (famed for disputing just about every view put to him) had a little story which illustrates my point. One day he was walking in a park when he overheard a father teaching his young son the name of a bird that they had just seen. However, he was teaching the name in seven different languages. The boy thus gained a neat party trick, but he had absolutely no knowledge of the bird, what it ate, where it came from, did it chirp a nice song, etc.

People build up their database of 'decontextualised knowledge' under the pretence of becoming more intelligent. However, it is the ability to have some insight into these facts, to be able to analyse, question, and understand, that 'makes life really interesting'.

Anyway, I'm off to learn the names of all the characters in Neighbours. May come in handy next time I play Trivial Pursuit.

Yours faithfully,

CHRISTOPHER BOAR

Hull

15 April

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