Lordy, but I am stupid. (hold on, I have to go get more beer)
It was at this a-ha moment that I knew my education was working! (I'm back, btw...) How, you are asking (and I know you are), does feeling stupid demonstrate the efficacy of a University experience? In what way would I feel the value of the many of thousands of dollars making their way from my wallet the opposite way up the Alaska pipeline, when all I feel is dumber and dumberer? Well, goodness, thank you for asking these pointed questions. Allow me to digress.
I have a theory. It doesn't have a name much fancier than Dan's Theory, but I think it's as important, or at least as demonstrable, in the physical world as Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle). Dan's Theory has a lot of fancy mathematics behind it, and general pontificatory language around it, but I can summarize for your convenience: the universe is an awfully big place. So big, in fact, that the processors which inhabit the cranial space teetering atop our spines cannot in any valuable way understand how big (and how small!) it really is. We can blah blah on about how many miles it is to the Sun, and et cetera, but that just doesn't slice it. What that means is it is simple for us to discuss x relative to y, when often the actual difference between x and y on the scale of the known universe is hard to measure. Clear? Let's take it another step and see if we can't all follow along:
The grandest single outburst of energy ever considered by mankind is the supernova: the explosion of a star which can, momentarily, outshine an entire galaxy. That is an ass-ton of energy, people. As far as we know, it is the single most powerful thing (okay, event) in the universe.
Now let's consider Dan's (that's me!) heartbeat. Or Dan (me, again) taking a breath. These events are energy events as well. Now, our dinky processors would obviously take the relative value of x (the supernova) and y (my heartbeat) and naturally conclude that one, namely x, was significantly more impactful (I think I made that word up, but I like it) than y. This would make me feel small if I didn't take Dan's Theory to a level that you probably don't see coming.
On the Universal scale, BOTH of these energy events are so insignificant as to be less than a rounding error apart. The difference betwixt them, at the relative scale of the Universe, is nothing. Nada. Zip. This leads me to the dramatic one line summation of Dan's Theory:
I am the most powerful thing in the Universe.
Which is to say, I don't mean fuck-all. But until we find something a heck of a lot bigger than a supernova, or me, even, nothing really matters.
So, how cool is Dan's Theory? Feel free to use it for yourself, but do know that you have to give credit where credit's due, and call whatever your pathetic, insignificant, dust-mitey version of MY theory may be what you want, you still have to admit it's my theory. Copyrighted and all. Patent pending. Whatever.
Let's circle the wagons back around. Ben Harper is really great, blaring as he is in my headphones at the moment. Anyway, a truly effective education begins to pull back the curtain on all it is that we don't know. We can get a glimpse of it, of the blanket-boundary of galaxies that seems to surround us at the 13.4 billion lightyear distance like the delicate but comforting shell of our Universal egg. But that revelation is more a slap in the face than it is a comfort. What I don't know fills millions of volumes, spans thousands of miles of library shelves, is barely contained in the heads of legions of the brilliant, past and present. Literally. This is awesome. My education is aiding me to scratch the shimmery coating off the lotto card of my future, and what I begin to see is how very very small I am.
There is a ridiculous amount of freedom in this. I only have to aspire to be as good as I can be, and no more. I don't have to save the world, or the universe, even, because I can't. I don't have to understand all of literature, or be the greatest writer there ever was, because, damn, how much arrogance would it take to assume, in this great, sprawling, sexy, grotesque Universe we can't even come close to understanding, that I was the best there ever was, anywhere? A lot, people.
See also: Dan's Theory.