When Useless Information Becomes Useful


Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend one of the lectures of Ambeth Ocampo’s History Comes Alive series. The title of his talk was “Before Japayuki: Japan in Philippine History”. For those who aren’t familiar with him, Ambeth Ocampo is a Filipino historian. He has served previously as Chairman of the Historical Commission of the Philippines but I think  he is best known for his books on Jose Rizal such as the Looking Back series and Rizal Without the Overcoat.

The speaker from a distance.

I am not much of a Philippine history enthusiast but when my friend invited me to attend his talk I did not hesitate to go because Ocampo is rumored to be a very indulging speaker. I was able to able to validate that when I attended the talk. He is witty, highly knowledgeable in his chosen field and can turn the most boring topic into interesting one.

Despite the fascination I had for the speaker, I actually feel ashamed for myself. Why? Because it was the speaker that lured me into the talk and not history itself. Furthermore, I think I am in a point my life where I am more bothered of “what is now” and “what will be”. I am slowly forgetting asking the questions “what happened, why and how?” The latter could generate tons of “useless information” because digging could lead you to thousand of stories. But as Ocampo has said, “The world has become a  lesser place because people don’t appreciate useless information anymore”.

Useless information. For instance, have you ever wondered if the Filipino dessert halo halo is really the Philippines’? How about the origin of the word “tansan” or “katol”? To my surprise, these were all borrowed from the Japanese. To some, there may be no point in knowing the history of these objects or term but to me, there is a new found appreciation for objects I encounter almost everyday.

I now feel reassured more than ever that there is nothing wrong in asking about the tiniest detail of things. How come the earth is the only planet with living things? How can dust create the wonderful colors of sunset?  Did Emilio Aguinaldo really deserve the “hero” title? What is the English name of sapsap? And the questions go on. These may not make sense but in finding the answers, I can make connections between stuff, ideologies, and happenings. As Ocampo has said, in history the most important question is not the “what” but the “why and how” because it is the latter then enables you to establish connections.

In the future, I  may not ask questions related to Philippine history because I am first and foremost a scientist by training. However, it is through a historian that I am reminded why I should keep asking, keep being curious and in the process, hopefully, I will be able to do something for the society.

Melay, Melai: Whatever nickname I have will not deter me from asking. 🙂
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2 thoughts on “When Useless Information Becomes Useful

  1. Information such as these may not leave a concrete and immediate impact on everyday life such as those provided by math, science and the like; However, knowing such things gives us those cool “AHA” moments that inspires us keep on asking those questions that lead us to understand and know more about the world we live in.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. I agree. That’s why we should not be bothered too much when people comment “you talk too much about stuff” or “you say unnecessary things” because knowing more gives you a better perspective of things. 🙂

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