When I left school and started reading books not in any curriculum, I discovered that some things I had learned as fact simply were not so. George Washington did not cut down a cherry tree, the little Dutch boy did not stick his finger in a dike, the graphic showing the gradual but steady rise of human evolution — though logical — did not happen in that way.

Consequently, I spent most of my adult life laboriously unlearning what I had so laboriously learned as a child. As far as I know, 2+2 still equals four, at least in base ten, which meant there were some things I didn’t have to relearn, though when it comes to English as a subject, many of the words I learned how to spell are now spelled a different way due to the debasement of the language. (Some people think the language is evolving to suit the needs of today’s younger generations, which might be true, but it seems like a devolution to me, and I don’t feel any need to learn their way of reading and writing and speaking.)

Because of this concerted effort to find out the truth, it came as a shock to learn that there is at least one “fact” I still “know” that may or may not be true. And if there is one such untrue fact, there has to be others, right? Luckily, I am no longer as interested in unlearning as I once was, so I am willing to forego the search unless a possible untruth falls in my lap as did this one.

So what’s this fact that may or may not be a fact? That crude oil is a fossil fuel formed by the decay of plant and animal material, and that it is finite. As it turns out, there are two different theories about crude oil. The fossil idea is considered a biotic theory because of its relation to erstwhile living things. It was first postulated by a Russian in 1757.The other theory is an abiotic one, and was also postulated by a Russian, albeit two centuries later. The senior geologist at the time said, “The overwhelming preponderance of geological evidence compels the conclusion that crude oil and natural petroleum gas have no intrinsic connection with biological matter originating near the surface of the earth. They are primordial materials which have erupted from great depths.” Other geologists think it is a renewable resource, that the earth keeps creating the oil, which is why some wells in the Gulf of Mexico are being depleted at an astonishingly slow rate.

Does it really matter io me what this particular truth is? Of course not, though I did find it interesting that there was such a gap in my knowledge base. Not that I know everything, of course, but I do know bits and pieces of a lot of things — the result of a lifetime of study and research.

And now I know this. I know that there are two explanations for the creation of oil, as well as a possible third or even fourth explanation — that both theories are correct, or that neither theory is correct.

And so, surprisingly, the unlearning continues.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

6 Responses to “Unlearning”

  1. Estragon Says:

    I tend not to think of it as “unlearning”. It’s more that the more I learn, the less I know.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Yeah, that evolution chart is famous, but it has some issues. They should show it with several different types of early humans popping up, branching out and then dying out as other species are more successful.

  3. Uthayanan Says:

    “Known is amount of sand in the fist , Unknown is total sand in the world”
    – from a female poet period (c. 3rd century BCE)
    As they say in English, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know”.

  4. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    I notice these anomalies, too. Of course, I have to factor in that science has come a long way since I went to school.

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