Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On the Acquisition of Knowledge

I'm finally getting around to responding to the question posed by a comment on a previous post: can the accumulation of knowledge become as poisonous as the accumulation of material objects? Some thoughtful comments have already been made on the question--check them out here.

My own take is this: as a grad student, I am quite tired of accumulating knowledge, particularly over a short period of time for the purposes of passing an exam. What I really want to get out of reading a book is not so much knowledge, as it is an experience. For me, the wonder of books is that they can allow you to take up second-hand the kind of experiences that change people.

And since I do believe there is such a thing as the self, and I do want my self to become something more beautiful, loving and good than it is, I don't see how I can go wrong reading books that will help that process along by giving the kind of soul-expanding experiences I value.

But perhaps for someone who does not believe in the ultimate reality of the self, and who desires the extinction of the self, even that kind of thing might be dangerous(?).


jenzai studio said...

I discovered this dialogue the other day and just haven't had a chance to respond to it. I had no idea that my comment had spurred a discussion! How fun! And sorry to be coming back so late to it. Of course, now it's been a few days since I read those other comments and so I have no idea what I'm responding to any more. and if I take the time to go back and read them I fear I will never have the time again to write to you. So here goes nothing.

What do you think about this idea: Maybe the danger in the accumulation of knowledge is not so much in having it but in thinking that one is better than other people for having it, sort of like material wealth. It's not the money itself that corrupts a person but the love of money. Can it be that way with knowledge?

Oh my God I just realized I sound a lot like those crazy anti-intellectuals. That is NOT how I mean to sound at all, but perhaps I'm finding that there is the smallest grain of truth in their fear mongering? Holy Shmoly I never in a million years thought I would be saying that, because believe you me I can go on a rant about anti-intellectualism. Being smart/intellectual is not a bad thing. Nor do I think that pursuing knowledge/sharing knowledge is bad. Perhaps it comes down to motives? If I'm acquiring knowledge just to prove to you that I am right and you are wrong, then that doesn't seem so good. Same with acquiring knowledge to impress or to cover up for other areas in which we might feel inadequate. I don't know, I'll have to think about this some more. Sorry I'm not more coherent.

Your last question really threw me because the more I thought about it, the more I identified with both propositions. Can they both possibly be true at the same time?

Miranda said...

I think the key to survival at Baylor will be not being in the religion dept or the seminary.