July 22, 2020KR OnlinePoetry

To Misunderstanding

          On the radio today, a neurologist identified
                    the most important capacity
                                        of the human brain
                    as being its capacity to contemplate
a self beyond itself. Even the interviewer was not so sure
                    he understood what his guest just said
          when he asked the specialist to explain it all again.

          I was not sure how the man would make his point again
                    so with thousands, possibly tens of thousands
                                        invisibly listening
                    along with me—we all leaned in, like silence itself
to the radio voice who then told us all about the brain’s
                    plasticity—he had doubted it himself, he said—
          for many years, decades, really; he’d heard a colleague

          assert the theory thirty years or so before. “A crank”
                    who he knew now had been a visionary all along
                                        and led him to the realization
                    that he’d been wrong about all he’d known about
the brain. Being able to see beyond one’s earlier position, that
                    point of view, was the key that freed him
          to reject each former hypothesis that he’d maintained.

          This was the brain, at any age—making new connections.
                    And to abandon old neural connections for new
                                        pathways seemed the very
                    hallmark of consciousness and our humanity.
But how many of us ever really see past a prior understanding?
                    And abandon it completely? This man
          of science moved me most when he finally admitted

          how wrong he’d been—in every other hypothesis
                    he’d made. Moving unknowingly from error
                                        to error, without a sense of
                    progress, is what made him become himself—
even if all our work seems like nothing but the sum of all our errors—
                    it will have been good to share our work, nevertheless.
          A life may fail to yield even one answer and still be well spent.