Polonius

To thine own self be true

The limited capacity of a human’s knowledge

Posted by Polonius on 31 December, 2006

Sherlock Holmes once made this observation, which has a ring of truth to it:

I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.A Study in Scarlet

It’s a bit wordy, but later wordsmiths have expressed the same sentiments in pithier terms:

Mr. Osborne, may I be excused? My brain is full.Gary Larson, 1986

and

D’oh! I didn’t need that new fact! Now I forgot who won Bud Bowl VIII!Homer Simpson, The Father, The Son, and the Holy Guest Star

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