The point of knowledge

2019-04-23 10:35

We live in world that is continually expecting and demanding of us to be well defined, to belong to a particular box which would in some way predict the outcome of our actions and lives. I have never been one to enjoy classification. I have loathed it and have always made efforts to defy it and all that is associated.

As a young man I always saw myself as a man and not a black or a man from a particular region or tribe. I still do to some extent but this changed for me when I could relate to the struggles of my black people. Well this is a story for another day.

The publishing of the first ever image of the black hole on 10 April 2019 by the Even Horizon Telescope re-ignited something in me; it reaffirmed what I have always believed and subscribed to as a person. The pursuit of knowledge without any tangible or even feasible outcome. Pursuing knowledge for knowledge itself and nothing else.

This is a world without limits, a world where one's thoughts have no boundaries. This led me to read a paper by Abraham Flexner titled “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge” published in Harpers in June/November 1939. The paper distinguishes between genius without thought of use and inventors with no thought but use. It distinguishes between engineers and lawyers whose world always led to an approximation of some desired outcome and scientists, mathematicians whose work is fuelled by curiosity and the desire to do science for science’s sake.

We live predetermined lives, lives based on Ifs and Thens like a computer programme, study this and become that, do this and get that. More and more we are forced to do everything in precise and determinable fashion. I am not in any way advocating for senseless, reckless behaviour. I am however advocating for venturing into the unknown, doing it precisely because we don’t know what the outcome might be.

“Knowing what you don’t know”

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