In Pursuit Of Knowledge. Usefulness Of Useless Knowledge. Knowledge For Knowledge’s Sake Is It worth it ?


As I get started on this discussion I recently recollect my colleague who in a casual conversation could not distinguish between the countries U.A.E and Saudi Arabia. I was surprised at my colleague’s poor understanding of Geography and gave him what the heck look! My friend went on the defensive and said he loves finance and only cares about finance which I understand is his chosen field of domain expertise and earns his bread and butter from. Now I wonder was that a fair justification for his poor knowledge of Geography? Any way it pays for him to have a better domain knowledge in Finance for such knowledge is rewarded and the rest is inconsequential as it hardly matters for who really cares if he could not differentiate between U.A.E and Saudi Arabia. Sadly this is very true of the present day generation where everyone is so focused on domain specific knowledge and see no value in having all-round knowledge which gives a semblance of balance to a wider out look to life. How did we come to this where every bit of knowledge whose worth cannot be measured by the amount of dollars is written off as of some useless knowledge of no use what’s so ever in our day to daily lives ?

There is a saying in my mother tongue that all the roads for the pursuit of all knowledge leads only to one destination. Feeding the Stomach. Well this had some validity in the good olden times when a man’s pursuit in life was to feed himself and all what he did was in an effort to feed himself. But we have come a long distance from then where what a man does for a living feeds him for sure but provides him much more than that. However the modern day society has evolved such that a man does not need to know it all in the knowledge spectrum to support himself it’s just good enough for him to be a specialist in a tiny arc of the knowledge spectrum to get on with his life and the rest of the spectrum is more or less irrelevant to him from a practical point of view. The society we live in puts a premium on the depth of the knowledge in our chosen area of expertise that the breadth of knowledge has lost its relevance!


This brings the focus on the question what defines knowledge ? Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning. Now if such Knowledge leads to a great quality of life and is good enough to feed yourself and your family the knowledge has some utilitarian value if not its just some knowledge loaded in some corner of your brain with no practical implications. So does this mean our quest for knowledge should be driven purely from an utilitarian point of view and we have to kill the curiosity quotient within ourselves to pursue knowledge if we deem it adding no incremental value to our earning potential. History is littered with stories of great scholars dying in penury where the smart ones I mean the knowledgeable ones who had the business acumen turning into multi millionaires as they could successfully find a conduit to proportionately convert what ever knowledge they had into its dollar equivalent. Having said that sheer joy of acquiring knowledge is not to see its potential worth in gold but for the good old adage of providing sufficient fodder to the brain and more commonly said food for thought. As I see myself going off the tangent I want to share a beautiful article titled the usefulness of useless knowledge originally published in the October 1939 issue of Harper’s

American educator Abraham Flexner explores this dangerous tendency to forgo pure curiosity in favor of pragmatism — in science, in education, and in human thought at large — to deliver a poignant critique of the motives encouraged in young minds, contrasting those with the drivers that motivated some of history’s most landmark discoveries.

We hear it said with tiresome iteration that ours is a materialistic age, the main concern of which should be the wider distribution of material goods and worldly opportunities. The justified outcry of those who through no fault of their own are deprived of opportunity and a fair share of worldly goods therefore diverts an increasing number of students from the studies which their fathers pursued to the equally important and no less urgent study of social, economic, and governmental problems. I have no quarrel with this tendency. The world in which we live is the only world about which our senses can testify. Unless it is made a better world, a fairer world, millions will continue to go to their graves silent, saddened, and embittered. I have myself spent many years pleading that our schools should become more acutely aware of the world in which their pupils and students are destined to pass their lives. Now I sometimes wonder whether that current has not become too strong and whether there would be sufficient opportunity for a full life if the world were emptied of some of the useless things that give it spiritual significance; in other words, whether our conception of what is useful may not have become too narrow to be adequate to the roaming and capricious possibilities of the human spirit. –( Brain Pickings)


I think the above passage succinctly sums it’s all. So don’t let pragmatism kill the curiosity within and of course curiosity does not kill the cat!

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RS is a deep thinker. His hobby is to analyze and reanalyze. Out of a passion to analyze he started this blog

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