Or is all knowledge inherently a good thing, and can only persons be harmful?Knowledge, like the biblical forbidden fruit, is enticing. The curiosity of human beings urges them to seek new knowledge, and the intelligence of human beings has spurs them to apply their known knowledge for their benefits. People seek knowledge to make use of it and create new knowledge. Since some human beings fail to apply their knowledge in a universally beneficial way, people blame knowledge itself to be evil. However, if examined with care, all knowledge is in itself neutral, and only its misguided application can be harmful.To begin with, I question myself, “What is knowledge?” Defined as a conceptual higher-level abstraction of information, knowledge can be categorized in two distinct areas: theoretical knowledge and practical or applied knowledge. Theoretical knowledge includes all scientific facts that can be proven and experienced by the senses, while practical knowledge includes all applications based on the former.
Practical knowledge emerges first in human consciousness and curiosity obliges human beings to seek the roots of this knowledge. For instance, everything on earth falls to the ground.Ape-men millions of years ago threw jackfruits down a tree to break them in order to obtain the pulp; people had observed objects fall since the beginning of their existence and it finally dawned on Sir Isaac Newton, who developed the theory of gravity. After discovering theoretical knowledge, people benefit greatly from it. For example, power dams use the potential energy due to gravity to generate electric power. Also, people even manage to overcome gravity in sending space shuttles to outer space.
Following the regularity of the two areas of knowledge, human beings have enhanced their cognizance and developed science and technology. In general, we may say that humankind has been progressing with the advances and refinements of these two areas of knowledge so far.However, some critics may instantly object to the notion that knowledge is beneficial and list numerous examples to make their point, such as the knowledge to commit a crime, which obviously can never be advantageous to anyone except criminals.
To give another example, nuclear weapons are undeniably destructive; thus, logically nuclear science is dangerous because of its application in this regard. Now we have a paradox – is knowledge both harmful and beneficial?[SBSB1]Before answering the question, I would like to explain the neutrality of matter first. According to Mao’s Theory of Antinomy, [SBSB2]any matter has two opposite sides, harmfulness and beneficence. This explains why anything in itself without any practical use is neutral.
For example, when people grant water the meaning of “a clear, colorless, odorless, and tasteless liquid, essential for most plant and animal life and the most widely used of all solvents”, water is beneficial. Nevertheless, for the people who encounter floods which bring affliction and suffering and cause enormous economical loss, water is a disaster. Let us refer back to the earlier example.
Besides the negative utilization, the knowledge of committing a crime can also be used in criminology for crime prevention.Thus there are always two sides, and may be more, to every single thing in the universe. However, both of these two sides are subject to human manipulation. For example, floods are catastrophic because human beings come to this conclusion from their experience, but in themselves, floods simply consist of water molecules and impurities.
Therefore, water is materially neutral, and all the moods, sentiments and attitudes that human beings have towards water are all based on their experiences with it. Things become meaningful only if and when human beings make use of them; thus, the theoretical knowledge of things is neutral and only the practical knowledge is value-laden.This being the case, we may conclude that the nature of practical knowledge is open to argument because humans play a decisive role in its application.
Nevertheless, human beings cannot change theoretical or objective knowledge; what they can change is the practical aspect of knowledge. In other words, practical knowledge, or the aggregate of applications, entirely depends on human interpretation, and thus human beings, not knowledge itself, should be held responsible for the consequences of its use. For example, one cannot blame the nuclear weapons but should blame their users. Besides, nuclear science is deduced from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, one of the most significant achievements in the field of modern physics. Clearly, the Relativity Theory, which belongs to theoretical knowledge, is neutral, as it can serve as the basis of modern cosmology, as well as the progenitor of powerful destructive weapons.
Hence, only human beings determine the application of theoretical knowledge and only human beings can be harmful.There is no knowledge we should not seek, and in reality we cannot afford to refrain from the pursuit of all knowledge because we never know what knowledge will be useful and what won’t. As one of the physics professors I met in UBC has said: Scientists have to keep on exploring even if they have not realized what a certain line of research can lead to, simply because it might be useful sometime in the future. The famous Goldbach Conjecture, which is said to be the most splendid pearl on the golden crown of mathematics, has not been discovered to have any practical use; however, mathematicians are so fascinated by it not only because of the intellectual challenge that it provides, but also due to its possible future applications. Human beings are so curious and optimistic that they cannot help but explore new knowledge and expect advantages from it because instinctively, they believe knowledge is a good thing.In conclusion, human beings are innocent to the extent that they cannot agree on what knowledge they should seek and cannot decide how they will utilize the knowledge; but they are responsible for all applications they decide to use after discovering the value of their new knowledge.
Knowledge itself is neutral and innocuous, as it cannot take the responsibility for causing the dire consequences created by human beings who misuse it. More importantly, we can neither blame human beings for being curious, nor knowledge for being neutral. Mankind is the most unpredictable thing one can think of, but if every human being cooperates, knowledge can be as beneficent as it should be.