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Typist

How Much Knowledge Is Too Much?

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Greetings all,

 

My intention here is to challenge the celebration currently under way in regards to the discovery of the Higgs Boson.

 

Although I'm using the Higgs as an example case, my purpose really is to ask larger questions about our relationship with knowledge. I hope you might find these questions interesting and engage them, whatever your position.

 

The global celebration of the Higgs discovery, and the seeming lack of a counter view, seems to shine a light on a culture wide consensus that more knowledge is better, almost no matter what, even if the knowledge was very expensive to obtain, and seems to have little defined benefit.

 

I propose that the most significant challenge facing humanity is the relationship between knowledge and wisdom, that is, the judgment required to use the power that flows from knowledge wisely.

 

I propose that knowledge grows exponentially, while wisdom grows incrementally at best. Thus, over time, the relationship between the two becomes ever more distorted. We are increasingly like a troubled 14 year old kid who has just been given a case of scotch, the keys to a car, and a loaded hand gun. We are ever more powerful, without being ever more wise.

 

So why complain about the Higgs discovery?

 

Well, shouldn't the discipline that brought us nuclear weapons, a tool that allows us to erase human civilization in 30 minutes, be subjected to relentless scrutiny when it announces another major project? I find such scrutiny to be entirely lacking, and this seems remarkable indeed.

 

I'll stop here for now to see if you are willing to take on this challenge together.

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Knowledge leads to understanding, wisdom is understanding.

 

 

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Wisdom is more than understanding, it is applying understanding in an appropriate way. I think the OP is challenging the appropriateness of such research.

 

I personally struggle to justify why we have spent such a phenomenal amount of money on such experiments, which whilst they are great for testing the theories of matter and particles, hardly seem important when contrasted to the current state of humanity. Would this money not have a greater impact worldwide if it was distributed across the nations as various resources? Poverty is a big problem today (and has been for a long time), but the issue on everyone's tongue is a particle that is still going to be there in any number of years and that as of yet has no specific application outside of theory.

 

The discovery is a big thing, for sure. But was it wise to find it now and distance ourselves from significant humanitarian issues, or would it have been wiser to sort ourselves out first, and then discover things collectively (i.e. where all nations are more or less equally positioned in global-economic status and able to contribute to such research)? I personally cannot understand why people are still dieing of starvation when we have the knowledge and understanding to change it.

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Psst, we do not have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the planet. But we do have enough to bomb enough modern cities.

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The only way we can make a wise decision about anything is if it is an INFORMED decision. That means we need to understand what actually happens in the universe and the relationships involved.

 

With the advent of petascale super computing I think we'll see a lot of advancement on the relationship side of things. Forecast simulations of the effects of introducing a new law etc. that will lead to more informed decisions.

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Any kind of innovation that has benefited mankind was due to the basic understanding of the various principles that govern it. The more we understand molecules/cells/atoms, the more we are able to develop better drugs, technology, etc.

 

No doubt that poverty is a problem, but things are getting better. Africa is waaaaay better today then it was a few decades ago. Less people live in poverty today (per capita) then ever before. I think the main reason for that is science and technology. If one nation discovers/creates something completely new, eventually, several other nations will benefit from it as-well.

 

Just because we almost came close to destroying ourselves doesn't mean we should forego the pursuit of knowledge, rather learn from out mistakes to ensure bad things don't happen (again).

 

 

 

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Hi guys, thanks for responding.

 

Wisdom is more than understanding, it is applying understanding in an appropriate way. I think the OP is challenging the appropriateness of such research.

 

Yes.

 

I personally struggle to justify why we have spent such a phenomenal amount of money on such experiments, which whilst they are great for testing the theories of matter and particles, hardly seem important when contrasted to the current state of humanity.

 

I share this concern. This is half of my argument, so much money spent on such a poorly defined benefit, at a time when we have so much other pressing business.

 

I have an even larger concern, which I tried to introduce above. It's a more sweeping concern, not limited to this recent discovery of the Higgs. Perhaps I could explain it this way.

 

Wars have been an ongoing regular fact of human culture for thousands of years. It's not much of a stretch to predict we'll have more of them. Some of the wars will be serious confrontations between leading powers, as they have always been.

 

Consider the history of military technology from say, the American Civil War through to the Cuban Missile Crisis a hundred years later.

 

Now plot this line forward in to the future. Do you want to go there?

 

If we blindly accept a premise of "more is better" when it comes to knowledge development, aren't we creating the conditions for future wars of Biblical proportions?

 

How much knowledge is too much? Do we reach a point when the wise thing to say is, "We don't really need to know that, let's leave it alone."

 

What made this jump out to me is that this discovery comes from the same folks that brought us nuclear weapons, which would seem to qualify their projects for serious scrutiny. Where is it?

Edited by Typist

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How much knowledge is too much? Do we reach a point when the wise thing to say is, "We don't really need to know that, let's leave it alone."

 

I don't think that's part of human nature, to be honest. We're explorers at heart (maybe I'm romanticizing a bit here) and we're always looking for the next frontier. I don't know if that's something we can just ignore.

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Hi, thanks for replying.

 

I don't think that's part of human nature, to be honest. We're explorers at heart (maybe I'm romanticizing a bit here) and we're always looking for the next frontier. I don't know if that's something we can just ignore.

 

Why can't the next frontier be breaking our addition to the next frontier? And...

 

Do we really have a choice?

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Hi, thanks for replying.

 

 

 

Why can't the next frontier be breaking our addition to the next frontier? And...

 

Do we really have a choice?

 

Individually, we always have choice. As a species, I am not so sure. As for breaking our "addiction" to learning new things, it's hardwired into who we are. As a species, humans are as successful as we are because we continue to dig into the mysteries around us. I mean you think about it, if that were not the case, the Earth would "still be flat", the sun would "still orbit the Earth", and people would live to the ripe old age of 35.

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Psst, we do not have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the planet. But we do have enough to bomb enough modern cities.

 

** thinks john stu knows something the rest of us aren't aware of **

 

I don't think that wisdom is part of knowledge although I can see why the two are perceived that way, a man with no education, who can't read, can still be wiser than a nuclear physicist standing next to him, knowledge comes with learning, wisdom comes through life experiences, patience and experience,

Therefore because I believe that, I can not say that I believe one can be taught how to be wise, Wise is learning when it's right to help the needy and knowing when it's right to not offer help even though they struggle,

 

Like someone said before, I think the wisest thing to do now is learn what needs to be known and what doesn't matter, especially string theory and the amount of money wasted on it, many scientists know it would be unimaginable to prove it, so why bother really? What difference does it make knowing if it's true? Your still stuck in this universe, you just now know that there are others.

Some things need to be left alone.

Although I am extremely happy about it being found, the higgs boson for example, we all knew it "had" to be there, so, why, when what we know about the standard model, governs the existence for the higgs, do we need absolute proof? And also the idiocy that the higgs had to be documented over 700 times before it could be proven for certain, each time the hadron collider was fired it took as much money as it would take to send a whole village of children to school, build a school, hire teachers and make sure none of them went hungry,

Maybe we should relax the rules for scientific research so that things don't have to be proven in black and white,

and also maybe those in positions that require a certain amount of intelligence, should take a wisdom test

Edited by space noob

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How much knowledge is too much? Do we reach a point when the wise thing to say is, "We don't really need to know that, let's leave it alone."

 

How do you know whether you need to know it? That, too, requires knowledge.

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As a species, I am not so sure.

 

It's surely reasonable to question our ability to change something so fundamental. But...

 

As for breaking our "addiction" to learning new things, it's hardwired into who we are. As a species, humans are as successful as we are because we continue to dig into the mysteries around us. I mean you think about it, if that were not the case, the Earth would "still be flat", the sun would "still orbit the Earth", and people would live to the ripe old age of 35.

 

...do we really have to change?

 

You're right, learning has been how we've successfully adapted to all the previous challenges.

 

And now we face a new challenge. Our knowledge poses a lethal threat to our existence.

 

Why can't this be the new mystery we unravel, the new thing we learn how to overcome? If you think about it, this is an even bigger challenge than the previous ones, in that it requires us to learn something more fundamental than just the next piece of information. We could roll up our sleeves and bite off this challenge with the same sense of adventure we've always applied.

 

Just a thought...

 

How do you know whether you need to know it? That, too, requires knowledge.

 

Well, if somebody is going to propose spending billions on any research, they should be able to make a case for some specific defined benefit. If the benefit is compelling, and the dangers minimal, perhaps we should proceed.

 

In the case of the Higgs, no real benefit has been identified, and the danger is that this big physics experiment could have the same outcome as the last one. So, on balance, I cast my vote against.

 

Imho, the inventors of the nuclear death machine bear a unique special burden of proof. They will continue to bear this high burden unless and until they can clean up the last mess they brought us.

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Well, if somebody is going to propose spending billions on any research, they should be able to make a case for some specific defined benefit.

Based on this comment, I will presume you have no idea how so many countless of the most profound advances we've experienced resulted from accidents. Research focused on specific benefits tends to miss the unexpected epiphanies that improve our world by several orders of magnitude. You'd do well to remember this next time you take penicillin, or go under anesthesia, use plastic wrap, mine for resources using dynamite, see a diabetic using artificial sweeteners, wear nylon or carry goods in a bag made of it, use a laser, plumb your house using PVC, appreciate that we have a vaccine for smallpox, use stainless steel or teflon, and countless others.

 

In the case of the Higgs, no real benefit has been identified, and the danger is that this big physics experiment could have the same outcome as the last one.

This point is rubbish on at least two fronts. First, there have been defined benefits, you just seem to be ignorant of them or dismissing them out of hand for no good reason. Second, there are countless downstream benefits yet to be realized, much like the research done at NASA changed our culture as a whole once the knowledge gained there cascaded into our daily lives.

 

It's almost as if you're dismissing the value of a human infant, or telling a couple they aren't allowed to conceive because they cannot tell you what specific job that child will have when they're 30 years old.

Edited by iNow

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Based on this comment, I will presume you have no idea how so many countless of the most profound advances we've experienced resulted from accidents. Research focused on specific benefits tends to miss the unexpected epiphanies that improve our world by several orders of magnitude. You'd do well to remember this next time you take penicillin, or go under anesthesia, use plastic wrap, mine for resources using dynamite, see a diabetic using artificial sweeteners, wear nylon or carry goods in a bag made of it, use a laser, plumb your house using PVC, appreciate that we have a vaccine for smallpox, use stainless steel or teflon, and countless others.

 

That's nice, but you've yet to specify a specific benefit that comes from Higgs research. If we're going to spend billions, why not spend it on something with a defined benefit?

 

This point is rubbish on at least two fronts. First, there have been defined benefits, you just seem to be ignorant of them or dismissing them out of hand for no good reason.

 

What are the defined benefits of Higgs research please?

 

Second, there are countless downstream benefits yet to be realized, much like the research done at NASA changed our culture as a whole once the knowledge gained there cascaded into our daily lives.

 

More maybe someday stuff.

 

It's almost as if you're dismissing the value of a human infant, or telling a couple they aren't allowed to conceive because they cannot tell you what specific job that child will have when they're 30 years old.

 

If you wish try this.

 

Imagine that I, user Typist, was the inventor of nuclear weapons.

 

And now I've come back to the forum with an idea for new research, which costs billions, and has no defined benefit. My proposal, coming from the creator of a doomsday machine, is that instead of spending billions on constructive and much needed projects where the benefit is known, you should give the billions to me, and who knows, maybe someday there might be a benefit of some kind, but I really have no idea what the benefit might be.

 

I can tell by the way you're writing that you would be among the first to rip me a new one.

 

And you would be correct in doing so.

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And now I've come back to the forum with an idea for new research, which costs billions, and has no defined benefit. My proposal, coming from the creator of a doomsday machine, is that instead of spending billions on constructive and much needed projects where the benefit is known, you should give the billions to me, and who knows, maybe someday there might be a benefit of some kind, but I really have no idea what the benefit might be.

 

I can tell by the way you're writing that you would be among the first to rip me a new one.

Only because your comparison is so flawed and irrelevant to what we were discussing.

 

I suspect strongly you'll merely dismiss this out of hand, too, but at least nobody can say I didn't address your question: http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/about/BasicScience3-en.html

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/12/higgs-boson-particle-physics-benefit

 

http://cerncourier.com/cws/article/cern/29328

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Only because your comparison is so flawed and irrelevant to what we were discussing.

 

Characterizing an example is not meeting the challenge presented by that example.

 

And, while neutrinos and the Higgs boson may seem distant from everyday life right now, I would bet that we will use them to make money and improve our lives in the long run.

 

From your links above. More maybe someday stuff.

 

Why should we choose a maybe someday benefit over a tangible defined benefit?

 

Further, why should we not subject proposals coming from the creators of nuclear weapons to a high standard of rigorous skepticism?

Edited by Typist

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It wasn't an example. It was an uninformed assumption about my potential response to a hypothetical situation.

 

Why should we choose a maybe someday benefit over a tangible defined benefit?

What guarantee do you have that the defined benefit will actually be realized? None. If you're being honest and consistent, your more defined benefit is no less "pie in the sky" than those I referenced.

 

Further, why should we not subject proposals coming from the creators of nuclear weapons to a high standard of rigorous skepticism?

When did anyone here suggest we shouldn't? Do you know what a strawman is?

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It wasn't an example. It was an uninformed assumption about my potential response to a hypothetical situation.

 

I agree I don't know ahead of time. So educate us then. What would your response be in the circumstance offered in the example?

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Well, if somebody is going to propose spending billions on any research, they should be able to make a case for some specific defined benefit. If the benefit is compelling, and the dangers minimal, perhaps we should proceed.

 

But in basic research you don't know what the benefit is until after the discovery has been made. Go back 120 years. You would not fund JJ Thomson, because he couldn't spell out the importance of the electron. Nobody could legitimately predict modern electronics and computers, yet they all hinge on this basic discovery.

 

In the case of the Higgs, no real benefit has been identified, and the danger is that this big physics experiment could have the same outcome as the last one. So, on balance, I cast my vote against.

 

Then you need to do some homework, for you are making an uninformed decision. Cutting-edge research requires specialized equipment, and that pushes the boundary on technology, in a way that commercial research would never do. Even if the discovery itself has no direct application, the indirect results are still there. Sometimes it's decades before an application can be found, because other enabling discoveries or advances are also required.

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Like I said, billions of dollars spent, for nothing in return except vague maybe someday promises.

 

My proposal is that this is not rational on a planet currently experiencing very pressing challenges which have the potential to up end the entire show. If these pressing challenges are not managed successfully, there will never be an opportunity for the maybe someday promises to come true.

 

If the ship is sinking, we bail water first, and worry about redecorating the dining room later.

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In the 60s people would have said the same sort of thing about space travel.

We had all those starving people...

 

OK but space research brought us satellites which, inturn let us map things like global temperature and ozone levels.

Without the "pointless" space research you wouldn't even know that the world was in trouble.

 

Just because you can't see the advantages of research doesn't make it a bad thing.

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Like I said, billions of dollars spent, for nothing in return except vague maybe someday promises.

 

My proposal is that this is not rational on a planet currently experiencing very pressing challenges which have the potential to up end the entire show. If these pressing challenges are not managed successfully, there will never be an opportunity for the maybe someday promises to come true.

 

If the ship is sinking, we bail water first, and worry about redecorating the dining room later.

 

That's an incredibly skewed view. A few billion dollars is not that much money in the grand scheme of things, especially when viewed against the fraction of our economy that is based on the fruits of research. The US military budget alone is around $700 billion; all of the non-defense R&D, which is applied as well as basic research, is less than 15% of that amount.

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The decision to spend gazillions on this kind of research is not made strictly on the basis of utility; it's made because of the intense curiosity of scientists who are able to convince moneyed people of its importance. Certainly the desire for knowledge of how the universe works is a beautiful thing; without that burning curiosity we wouldn't have an industrial and technological society. I think the chances are good that this money - and that invested in string theory research - is wasted. But that's just a guess. It's possible that a better understanding of the underpinnings of the universe will result in fabulous new inventions. But there is a dividing line - hard to define - between what makes sense and what's wasteful of resources. We don't want to spend a large fraction of our national wealth on things that have an extremely poor likelihood of being of any practical benefit to anyone except the amusement and ego satisfaction of those few scientists with the brains to understand this stuff.

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Without a working knowledge of the future it’s impossible to define any such line, even if one existed.

 

 

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