Favorites – recent learning or discovery

Tell me about a recent mind-blowing discovery or learning you made, or did?

I wrote this question to Marina, in our ongoing exploration of “favorites,” which, increasingly, seems a misnomer for this series.


Every once in a while, a new fact, or understanding, lands in me with the force of a thunderclap, upending things I previously imagined I had understood. About twenty years ago, I remember learning that a friend of mine – at that point, already an old friend – spelled, and pronounced, her last name differently than I had thought all that time. I felt a profound sense of disequilibration, of confusion. The world wasn’t as I had thought.

As you know, I have a unique predisposition – and vulnerability – to this phenomenon, stemming from my childhood. My parents hid my father’s homosexuality from me until I was seventeen, even though their marriage had come apart thirteen years earlier, primarily for that reason. My confusion, disorientation, has echoed throughout my adult life as, over and over, I find things shifting into focus in a way I never previously had imagined.

More often than not, these days, those shifts, those epiphanies, are personal: they concern aspects of my psychic existence to which I somehow managed to be blind (to blind myself to) for years.

Some (15!) years ago, “This American Life” did a terrific episode on the phenomenon of, as they put it, “knowing just a little bit too little.” The episode centered on things people came to understand in adulthood that they had misunderstood profoundly, previously. They introduced the notion of a “modern jackass,” someone who speaks authoritatively about something about which they have less knowledge than they claim.

Long ago, I was prone to this bit of misbehavior. Today, I remain vulnerable to it, but do it far less often. And still….

I believed – and “believed” doesn’t really do justice to the force with which I believed – that cicadas universally emerged from their underground nymph status every 17 years. And not just every 17 years, but that this was true of each and every cicada, that cicadas, essentially, were a once-every-17-year phenomenon.

I don’t know how I came to imagine this. The sound of cicadas is familiar to me. I recognize it. And not from having heard it in only two cicada seasons in my life. (Three would’ve been hypothetically possible. But only hypothetically so.)

Anyway: recently, as I was listening to their unmistakable sound, I looked them up on the Wikipedia. I learned, predictably, that there was a kernel of truth upon which I had built my misunderstanding – periodic cicadas have either 13 or 17 year cycles. But those are periodic cicadas. Not all cicadas.

I’m not sure how I managed to be flummoxed by this discovery, but I was. It totally shocked me.

I’ll be intrigued to learn about your recent learning….


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