Too Much of a Good Thing?

We live in a world which seems to be obsessed with the idea of amassing knowledge. So much of our energy seems to be devoted to the production, acquisition and application of knowledge whatever it’s actual or intrinsic worth. Knowledge, in one form or another, appears to be the goal of much of human activity and the basis of many aspects of our interractions with others and the world. Without our thirst for knowledge, we are told, our species would still be living from hand to mouth only driven by the urge to survive. Knowledge has brought so much good, so much progress and so much understanding that it is often regarded as something of unalloyed value. Be that as it may one sometimes wonders whether when it comes to knowledge the adage ‘one cannot have too much of a good thing’ should really apply?

There are clearly some obvious ways in which having certain kinds of knowledge may not always be a entirely good thing. I do not personally know how to make and use a deadly weapon and I’m happy to say I have no plan to acquire that particular kind of knowledge. Having said that the knowledge which enabled us to produce the atom bomb may also ‘soon’ be used to produce potentially illimited and clear energy in the form of cold fusion. Coming to know about one particular part of the past of a partner or best friend may significantly alter the quality of one’s relationship with them in a negative and unnecessary way. Being obsessed with knowing what is going on in the world is, in the case of one of my friends, a constant source of genuine anxiety and stress. Some extremely ‘knowledgeable’ people can also be, sometimes as a result of the extent of their knowledge, extraordinarily arrogant and closed minded. Knowledge also shapes our prespectives, values and assumptions and may therefore sometimes limit our ability to have a genuinely open mind which in turn will determine what and how we acquire new knowledge. Is there something to be said for suggesting that one of the reasons why children seem to be so spontaneously imaginative and creative is the fact that their general knowledge is limited and fluid? Having an excess of information will sometimes be more a hindrance than a help in making a particular decision. And so on and so forth…

Clearly there are many ways in which having a particular kind of knowledge isn’t necessarily an absolute good. Whilst being knowledgeable is one of the qualities of the ideal student as far as the IB Learner Profile (IBLP) is concerned, knowledge comes in many different forms and can be put to many different uses. It is not by accident that the IBPL also emphasizes the possession of specific moral qualities to highlight the importance and role of the ethical context and values in which knowledge is produced and applied. Although ignorance may sometimes be bliss, knowledge of genuine worth can be a source of great benefit to oneself and others, having the wisdom to discern when one is the presence of it is however a lifelong search.

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