Is the pursuit of knowledge always good?

When I was a kid, I used to think that pursuing knowledge was always good, and that humanity should learn as much as it can no matter what. I sometimes wonder why I thought that, but it’s probably because I found learning enjoyable as a kid. Of course I still find learning enjoyable now, but now I no longer believe that we should pursue every possible branch of knowledge in society.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t understand as a child was that new knowledge discovery is intimately linked with economic growth. The more facts we discover, the more products we can make and sell. Due to our human instincts for safety and novelty, we buy these products whether or not they are actually useful for maintaining a safe and happy existence.

Therefore, the pursuit of new knowledge can support increasing consumption of goods, which as we know has led us to an almost complete environmental disaster.

Pursuing knowledge can also be dangerous on an individual level. No doubt in ancient times when there was much less that one could know, any new piece of information could prove to be directly valuable to survival. Thus, it is not surprising that we have a strong instinct to learn new things. However, now that instinct today is usually maladaptive. In other words, we still have the instinct, but it no longer does us as much good.

So, how can pursuing knowledge be dangerous to you? Well, we have such large brain capacities, so we can spend years learning some topic very deeply. However, if we do this, it gives us very little time to do anything else, like actually think about what life is all about, develop character, or spend time with loved ones. I actually personally discovered through deep introspection that although I enjoyed learning a lot in school and during my PhD, it was a very one-sided existence without enough time to think about other aspects of life that are beyond the intellectual.

After thinking a lot about this topic, I have come to a somewhat extreme conclusion that is mostly instinctual: most of the things we have discovered as a species recently is dangerous. Now we still have some very useful things we need to learn, like how to avert climate disaster and how to be less cancerous to this planet. However, we need to learn that knowledge is like any food or drink and should be taken in moderation rather than pursued voraciously and endlessly.

I hope we can do this but I am afraid that we will keep pursuing knowledge until we come up with such dangerous things as medicine that could make us live for hundreds of more years or entertainment that is so advanced that it will completely take us away from being naturally human.

My advice to my readers is: learn less random stuff like facts, but take time to learn more about yourself. It is also helpful to consume less entertainment and less technology, and spend quiet time without a screen thinking about the meaning of life.


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