Why Increased Knowledge Might Not Always Be A Good Thing

November 17, 2007 at 12:19 pm 2 comments

As the title says, with more knowledge, the more cynical you get of the world around you. With increased knowledge, there is a sense of barely veiled disappointment you feel that what you see may not be as concrete as you thought it was. Let me give you an example. When you see an article reporting some finding in a respected newspaper, what do you think? Do you perhaps think “Oh, cool. I didn’t know that” or maybe you thought, “Hmmm…I don’t buy it. Lemme see the data”? For me, it increasingly becomes the latter. I’m taking a Sociology Research Methods class right now in addition to a Psychology Statistics class and for me, the world is becoming increasingly full of lies. I see an article in Yahoo!News and I immediately think, “The reporter is a journalist, what are the chances that he/she actually knows what he/she is talking about and not just the information packet that the scientist is feeding him/her?” The more intimately connected you are to that field, the more you question the validity of the information given. If you were to tell me that the universe is shrinking and that scientists has found a new planet whose magnetic field is so strong that it would be impossible to land there, I would totally believe you. I may take the information in with a pinch of salt but by and large, I’ll believe you.

The trouble with increased knowledge is that it is hard to accept things at face value. For example, when you were young and somebody showed you a magic trick, you’ll be like “wow! That’s soooooo cool! Do it again!” while these days you’ll be looking for the trick behind it. You’ll definitely respect the person for practicing enough so that he/she was able to do the trick seamlessly but you’ll still know that it’s a trick. Most of the time for me, this sense of awe and cynicism is nearly impossible to separate in every day life. One thing that I noticed that while I was watching the show “Mythbusters” they used a $60 million passenger aircraft and a cruise ship and I was thinking, “How much of that is based on the company (the cruise ship and aircraft, not Mythbusters) wanting to advertise? The answer: all of it. There is no way that they’ll let them use the million dollar airplane if they didn’t have compensation. Still, it does kinda diminish the enjoyment when the hosts were explaining the aircraft (how many seats, the type of engines etc…) as I can’t help but wonder how much screen time did the companies negotiate with the show before they let them use the aircraft. However, an important point to note is that without this advertising, there was no way that the myth could be tested and it’s a win-win situation for all concerned except it does pain me that such arrangements are necessary in the first place.

Altruism, for example, is not altruism at all. As anyone who took an Anthropology class will attest, Altruism is an act for survival. There are different types of altruism – kin selection and reciprocal being the main one. I think that those are pretty self-explanatory. Altruism in the giving of charity is also motivated by selfish reasons. The reasons may vary from “if I were in that situation, I want someone to help me too” to “I want to give back to society”. While the former may be viewed as more selfish and self-involved, the truth is that both of them are being self-involved. Giving to charity makes people feel good and that alone would induce people to give. While this does not discount the charity itself, one part of me does ask (whenever some celebrity with some disease endorsed something) “if they weren’t so involved in this. If they weren’t suffering from this disease/know someone suffering from this disease, would they still be so generous with their time?” Humans are pretty selfish after all.

The truth is, increased knowledge makes you more aware of the lies that you are subjected to in your surroundings. The subtle lies increases your skepticism and cynicism multiple fold than those who are obviously lying to you. For example, magic. We all know that it’s not real but we have no wish to investigate the tricks involved as it would diminish our sense of wonder. It’s something akin to Sherlock Holmes. Once you hear the explanations, the trick seemed easy (and your sense of wonder diminishes) but you are in awe of their talent (and usually, the amount of time and effort devoted to it). In science, knowing how it works doesn’t diminish your wonder for it. In fact, it increases it. When before you might see a rainbow and think, “wow, it’s so pretty,” now you might appreciate the sheer complexity that it takes for you to be able to enjoy the rainbow in the first place (your eyes, refraction, the angles involved, the amount of liquid in the air etc…).

Conclusion? Increased knowledge will alternately make you more of a cynic of your fellow men and increase your wonder of the natural world. Also, you might be more panicky at the knowledge of the varied ways that your life can go wrong or you may be a bit more zen, depending.

Also, an interesting article I found but which has nothing to do with the post above whatsoever…

Wise Parents Don’t Have “Smart” Kids

Entry filed under: Private Musings, Psychology. Tags: .

House 406/407 – Whatever It Takes/Ugly (SPOILER warning) Hah! No complains okay…

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. xiaoannnn  |  November 17, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    ah , the truth. finally

  • 2. Steffi M  |  November 18, 2007 at 10:10 am



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