The demise of knowledge for its own sake - digressions

The concept of fighting ignorance has always appealed to me although I have never tried anything else but fighting my own ignorance, let’s say with acceptable results. I noticed, however, accumulation of knowledge came with an attendant sentiment that knowing stuff had an intrinsic value, which made knowledge more precious than the money or power that it could secure. Highly debatable, but that was my feeling.

But maybe I shouldn’t adopt a reductionist stance because things are seldom either black or white. Maybe ‘knowledge is power’, ‘knowledge is convenience’, or ‘knowledge is money’ can all be true even if I continue to believe in knowledge for it own sake. Thus, depending on one’s attitude or philosophy, knowledge is more or less a tool that can benefit one in achieving one’s goals. How interesting, though, because if we regard knowledge in this way, it becomes fundamentally a teleological value.

In an episode of the TV serial “Here and now” (whose title I think alludes to Utopia), a character maintains that people’s thirst for knowledge stems in fear. I gave a mental snort when I heard that, but it set me thinking because it offered a cause rather than a purpose. They say fear springs from ignorance, so to quell one’s fear one can achieve knowledge and get rid of one’s anxieties. It’s kind of obvious even if it’s not entirely true - it can’t be an epiphany anyway because it sounds very much like common sense.

Eventually it rang a bell: Alfred Adler. The idea that a person’s inferiority complex can explain that person’s behavior has become a widespread belief due to Alfred Adler’s effort. He is one of the fathers of holism and many other theories, which have been absorbed into modern psychology without attribution.

So knowledge for its own sake has died, selflessness is an illusion, and free will does not exist. Well, I don’t care. For me, selfishness is still bad in the absence of selflessness, free will is a fact, and knowledge still has an intrinsic value.

NB Forcing one’s opinion on others is not fighting ignorance.

I have learned lots of things through osmosis or sheer force that I don’t believe have any special value. What is the value of knowing that Terence Howard wipes his ass with baby wipes and nothing else? I don’t think knowing this fact has made me a better person.

But the pursuit knowlege, even if it is trashy knowlege, has value as personal entertainment at a bare minimum. A person may not ever win the Nobel prize by compiling all the toileting habits of celebrities, but if this hobby keeps them from flinging themselves off a ledge, more power to them.

I don’t think there is much of anything that has intrinsic value. “Value” is synomous with worth, advantage, benefit, good–and these words only make sense in a particular context. For instance, I can think of many instances where it would be good to teach someone how to fight to the death. But I can think of the same number of instances where it would not be wise to do so. So no, knowlege isn’t always good. It isn’t always anything.

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Ding, ding, ding! You wrote the magic word!

Me (at age 10): “Why do I have to go to school? I’m going to be a shepherd when I grow up.”

My mother: “Because knowledge has intrinsic value.”

At this point in my life, I would be more inclined to say that, “LEARNING has intrinsic value.”

(NB: I did not, in fact, become a shepherd.)

I dispute that knowledge for its own sake is useless. Now, much of it is, but so is much of everything. And you might not know how a certain piece of knowledge will be important later.
Ever since junior high I’ve read widely in a whole variety of areas. This did get me on Jeopardy, so there’s that, but the major benefit is seeing the commonality across disparate fields. Lots of advances come from cross-fertilization. Literally - I saw a paper once about routing test access through IC packages based on a heuristic patterned after the ways bees find flowers. I doubt the person who came up with idea had any clue his reading about bees was going to be useful in electronics.

Only thing I have to comment on that: you can have all the knowledge in the world (and everbody of us has it at their fingertips nowadays), but if you’re too dumb to connect the dots, it’s useless.

Perfect metaphor, actually. Because knowledge really is just a bunch of dots. Ben-Day dots (not Ben-wa, that’s different). You don’t need all of them to know what’s what, but the more you have, the better understanding you have of what it is you’re looking at.

My issue with knowledge for its own sake is that unless you can actually express what you know in some fashion, you really don’t know it at all. I saw this time and time again with my oldest son, who is more apt to pick up on things that interest him , and yet he routinely could not express what it was he learned.

Of course. Knowledge is nothing more than bits on a data storage or connections of synapses in our brain. Sadly, some people lack those connections.

Application of knowledge is key, if you’re in a situation where you have to gain favor from Terence Howard, stock up on wipes when you invite him round for poops.

Right. I can think of scenarios where knowing this info would be valuable. But otherwise, it is wasted space in my brain.

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It used to be the case, pre-Internet, that knowing facts - having them accessible in your brain - was in itself a useful thing. Because you couldn’t use a fact that you didn’t personally know.

Obviously some facts were more important than other facts. But facts were still important.

Now we can outsource ‘knowing facts’ to our smartphones. We need to find something different to do with our brains.

Most of the things you can do with your brain are, sadly, more effortful than simply remembering a fact.

The value lies in the process of acquiring knowledge, not the knowledge itself.

It may be an interesting exercise to devote some thought to the difference between humans and other sentient beings and lesser forms of life. One might say “intelligence” but that begs the question rather than answering it. What is “intelligence”? Maybe something that enables one to make tools to better one’s existence? Well, maybe, but once you’ve made tools good enough for hunting and filling your belly, what more do you need? And there are intelligent animals, on land and in the sea, that don’t make tools.

Maybe I’m biased because I tend to see human progress in terms of science, but I would say that the singular feature of higher intelligence is curiosity. Curiosity is wanting to know things, knowledge for its own sake. Curiosity drives learning. It’s been the driver of science since before we invented the word, and its side effects have been transformational to the human condition. We’ll be just fine as long as we have curiosity, and are willing to fulfill it.

No, bits in data storage or synapse patterns are not knowledge, they’re information. I would define knowledge as the synergy of information and intelligence.

Ok, bits in a data storage are nothing but information, but the “intelligence” in this setting are programs/algorithms to process this data in a meaningful way. With the human brain I’m not so sure what our programs/algorithms look like, but as I understand it (I’m a humble electrical engineer in telecommunications and not a neurologist) the complexity of connections between synapses go beyond pure information and hint to some pattern of what human/animal intelligence is. I may be wrong of course.

The same thought occurred to me when pondering on the topic but then I instantly remembered how a dog will sniff every corner of his master’s new place as soon as they move to their new home. I know human curiosity is more complex but to begin with it may have originated in fear.

Unlike most people in my country my parents used to move quite frequently in an effort to obtain access to more or better resources, an experience that caused me to go to many different schools. Every time I studied in a new place I felt I needed to be smarter than I was, and soon the school library became my home. I forced myself to read books that were way over my level of understanding and I particularly had difficulty grasping this treatise on artificial intelligence, whose introduction delved into what intelligence is. That is where I came across this idea that I fell in love with right away: The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Indeed. Although I find learning fun in itself, knowledge seems to be a waste if it is not applied. Application can be a mental process though, not necessarily a physical one.

I used to be good at presentation in school, which made me think I was soo smart until I saw the amazing things my IT-oriented friends were able to produce despite their inability to explain how they did it. People may manage to make use of knowledge even if they’re not able to express what they know. If I were a school teacher, I would involve students in projects where they could actually use the knowledge they have acquired rather than merely presenting it.

I had a professor of philosophy in college who made this exact point, in response to a student who said something like “I know what I mean but I can’t say it.” The professor said “If you can’t say what you mean, you don’t know what you mean.” Of course, that was in the context of a philosophy discussion, not something on a practical or experiential level.

But it was about 50 years ago and it has stuck with me ever since.

How old are you? Are you good with a crook? Many people enter shepherding later in life.