Lawrence Leung: On (Not) Knowing The School of Life

“Knowledge is power. France is bacon.”

This was the closing statement of Lawrence Leung’s secular sermon On (Not) Knowing for The School of Life.

I bet you’re thinking: Huh? Why?

Well, the actual quote is “Knowledge is Power” – Francis Bacon. You can see where people get confused.

The misunderstanding of this statement was just one example Leung provided us with to endorse his message that it’s okay to admit that you don’t know something, or that you don’t completely understand it.

It’s what you do with that not knowing, or that gap in your knowledge, that’s important.

To give context, Lawrence Leung is a well-known Australian comedian and documentary filmmaker, with a background in Psychology. I’ve long enjoyed his search for the answers to all sorts of questions – from reliving his childhood ambitions in Choose Your Own Adventure, to searching for explanations of the paranormal in Unbelievable.

Of course, this was no ordinary, ho-hum lecture to a sleepy Sunday-morning congregation.

We were welcomed first by well-known Australian singer / songwriter Dan Kelly, who masterfully performed a number of quirky songs. In the vein of any good service, we were encouraged to sing along to these hymns. They told us stories of the struggle of a Nimbin hippy to apply for the baby bonus, the post-apocalyptic, underwater band (made up of the only remaining survivors of Global Warming, fronted by Bindi Irwin), and the tale of a monastic nun who ran away with the Catholic School’s groundskeeper.

Needless to say, when it came time for Lawrence Leung to speak, we didn’t quite know what to expect. We weren’t let down.

The first time many of us uncover the truth about something is when we expose ourselves to the ‘Santa Claus’ myth. In detail, Lawrence described staying awake to witness his parents leaving presents under the Christmas tree, with no sign of a jolly fat man in a red suit, and the devastation that followed, when he realised his parents had duped him!

He promptly stood up in front of his class on the first day back at school, and told them all what he’d seen! He’d solved a problem. He had the answer. Sharing it with his classmate was maybe not the best idea.

The thirst for knowledge and the explanations of how things work, and why, has been scientifically linked to a desire for the dopamine release in the brain. This happens during the period of anticipation leading into the answer / solution / explanation being revealed.

This dopamine rush, according to Leung, is addictive, and is what drives him to uncover secrets and figure out how and why things are the way the are.

After uncovering the true identity of Santa Claus, Leung went on to develop a keen interest in the secrets of magic tricks, the rational explanations for ESP and psychic ability, and what the paranormal is really about. He even completed a degree in Psychology, such was his fascination with the workings of the human mind.

We were wowed and astonished by a number of audience-participation demonstrations of magic and psychic reading, which Leung later exposed as common sense and trickery. Well, mostly. I’m certain there were still a few elements that were pure magic! (But then, maybe I just don’t want to ‘know’ everything.)

The summary of why we were told all of this? It’s okay to say those three scornful words: ‘I don’t know’.

It’s a good thing to seek answers; it’s ambitious to want to find things out.

The only way you can do this though, is if you admit that you don’t know in the first place, and proceed to go looking for the explanation.

Knowledge is power. France is bacon.


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Diego PelaezUX, Innovation