A king once is quoted as exclaiming to an ancient philosopher that “much knowledge has made you mad.” In the cliche, “ignorance is bliss” we have reiteration of the notion that fear of knowledge is entertained in some quarters. With the realization in tow that there is precedent for transformation of the cliche that “knowledge is power” into “knowledge (power) can run you mad”, and with the movie “A Beautiful Mind” as perhaps the most recent precedent for knowledge can run you mad, we arrive at the conclusion that there perhaps is merit to fear of knowledge.
Regardless of merits of fear of knowledge, it is straightforward to conclude that a world without any knowledge is tantamount to a world lacking in human beings who are self aware. For in order for each day to have meaning, from waking up in the morning to laying down at night to sleep, every activity is an application or demonstration of knowledge.
In the realization that people with Alzheimer’s — people who have lost their knowledge — do not remember necessity of brushing their teeth, we arrive at importance of knowledge for performance of the most mundane activities of everyday life.
What then to do, that is, how then to arrive at balance between necessity of knowledge and fear that knowledge can run the mind amok? Presence of a conundrum is evident in the fact that knowledge does not just materialize out of thin air, rather always must be sought out.
Knowledge never ever arrives as a gift within man’s consciousness. If it is to be realized, knowledge always is actively sought.
It was due to the fact that Galileo was thinking through the problem that was orbit of the earth, orbits of the planets, orbit of the sun, and centrality of either of the sun or the earth, that he arrived at the ‘Eureka’ moment that lies at core of man’s capacity for navigation of oceans and space. Absent the proof that the earth is round, and that the earth orbits the sun, Einstein could not have arrived at the insight that the curvature of the earth — which implies roundness of the earth — matters for realizations of gravity and reality (speed is relative) in time and space.
Galileo’s discovery mitigated fear of falling off the face of a flat earth, heightened investments into sailing the oceans, provided the confidence that man could sail all around the earth.
If Newton had not been thinking through problems of time and space, this while sitting under a tree, he could not have arrived at critical observations that would become part of his then ground breaking work on essence of gravity.
Without our understanding of gravity, which is facilitated primarily by Newton, travel by air would be a nigh impossibility.
Having established that a seeking out of knowledge is required for arrival at new knowledge, and having established necessity of knowledge for meaningfulness of human existence, clearly mankind constantly must be in search of new knowledge, must be in search of knowledge that improves well being of society. Simultaneously, however, mankind must remain aware of dangers inherent in knowledge, that is, the seeming danger that too much of knowledge can run the mind amok.
But is there really such a thing as “too much knowledge,” or do we confuse the issue? Is it the case that “too much knowledge” can run the mind amok, or is it the case that it is the refusal to impose boundaries on attitudes towards knowledge that runs the mind amok?
Consider Einstein’s theory of relativity. From postulation of the theory to the first practical application of the theory took roughly 8 years. Given the theory already had been shown to be mathematically correct, however, the theory already was celebrated. Every good theory seeks, however, practical applications, for good or brilliant theory receives it’s greatest validation in context of meaningful and successful practical applications. If Einstein had gotten all hot and bothered over the course of those 8 years, the obsession with importance of arrival at practical applications for his theory conceivably could have run his mind amok.
We arrive then at an important insight, which is, it is not arrival at new knowledge that runs man’s mind amok, it is man’s fixation and obsession with the new knowledge that has potential for ruining the mind. When knowledge becomes an end in of itself, when it becomes a self aggrandizing quest or accomplishment, as opposed to a service that improves welfare of innovators and of society, knowledge has potential for ruining of the mind.
I illustrate. Suppose a brilliant mind produces a brilliant solution to a problem of which people were not even conscious. Suppose then that this brilliant mind seeks to replicate said success, seeks to produce new and brilliant solutions in other spaces. This quest for arrival at new and brilliant solutions within alternate spheres transforms the search for knowledge into a self aggrandizing quest, with outcome the search becomes an end in of itself. When a person is brilliant and is showered with accolades, it is very easy for the search for new knowledge to become in entirety an exercise in self aggrandizement. If this transformation is not successful, if the innovator does not achieve similar success in other spheres, the frustration and obsession easily can run the mind amok.
For avoidance of demagoguery that runs the mind amok in course of searches for new knowledge, searches for new knowledge never must be dissociated from normal courses of life. Regardless of seeming importance of knowledge problems — large or small — if it lands in his or her lap, an innovator who seeks to keep the mind intact tackles any knowledge problems that present themselves, does not restrict himself or herself to a wait for the next huge, gargantuan problem, which resolved wins him or her status of genius. When the search for knowledge occurs in context of normal courses of life, and is not restricted to a wait for new ideas that are gargantuan in their proportions, and when timing of arrival at applications of new knowledge is not obsessed over, the mind is preserved from dangers of knowledge, does not run amok in course of the quest for knowledge.
So then is ignorance bliss? Clearly Not. For knowledge is an integral and necessary component of meaningful self aware existence. Rather, it is the capacity for right frames of mind in context of searches for knowledge, capacity for right attitudes towards new knowledge, and willingness to tackle all sizes of knowledge problems — large or small — that ensure pursuit of knowledge only always yields positive benefits for innovators, and beneficial externalities for all of society.
Most times, the capacity for identification and resolution of gargantuan problems is developed in course of willingness to tackle problems that are important, but which seem of little worth.
We conclude then that pursued with the right mindset, and without self aggrandizement, and within normal courses of life, and with willingness to tackle all unsolved problems that land in the lap, and with care that the desire for applications of new knowledge not devolve into demagoguery, that knowledge indeed always is power, that knowledge always is beneficial for innovators and all of society.