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What I Don’t Know

Sara Felsenstein | Thursday, February 23, 2012

Last week, a friend told me light roast coffee has more caffeine than dark roast.

“Um, that can’t be true,” I said as I frantically turned to Google to verify my preconceived understanding of the beverage. It’s a Wikipedia-confirmed fact, however, that caffeine content is actually burned off during the roasting process. In most cases, the darkest roasts are the least stimulating.

I tried to justify why I’d assumed the opposite, but came to no conclusions. Everything I thought I “knew” about coffee was shaken. I was a victim of the placebo effect.

This incident got me thinking about all the things I “know” and “don’t know.” About the many things I have always assumed to be “true,” without ever consciously arriving at their truth.

In a college environment like Notre Dame, we’re constantly revising, molding and adding to our perspectives on truth. The process is both exciting and uncomfortable. It reminds us of how little we know.

In an introductory history class my sophomore year, I assumed the entire semester a girl I had befriended was a freshman, simply because almost everyone was. On the second to last class day, she arrived wearing an engagement ring and brought up her plans to get married after graduation.

She was a senior? And getting married? I couldn’t believe it.

My views on her were turned entirely upside down. I realized she had knowledge I didn’t have — about relationships, Notre Dame and life in general. I didn’t know how to relate to her because I was no longer the older one.

I felt ridiculous for making that assumption, because while other characteristics might have led me to realize her age, the fact that she was in a freshman class overruled them all. First impressions do matter — I had closed my mind off to revisions after that first class day.

As a senior English major, I’ve realized the liberal arts education is as much about changing one’s way of thinking as it as about studying texts. The liberal arts education forces students to be cautious about making assumptions.

Every point must be supported, every thought defended. Reasoning and critical thinking are essential. These skills are applicable not only in the job world but in everyday life, and I’d argue that’s what makes a liberal arts education so strong.

Over my four years, I’ve gained a wide range of knowledge, some of which I’ve retained and some which is stored in some locked part of my memory.

But my English major education has also encouraged me to be comfortable with the unknown.

It’s a terrifying thought that in a few months, I’ll be leaving a place of comfort, a place that was home for four years. But it’s also it’s thrilling. There are so many things I don’t know.