Does Knowledge Have Inherent Value?

Knowing information can help in a variety of different ways. But does learning have value, even if you don’t use that knowledge in any way?

Kids attend school in their formative years, because learning is key to success. (Some kids don’t thrive in a formal learning situation, but that’s not important for this discussion.)

How is learning important?

For one, you have greater control over your situation. Knowledge helps you make better decisions, because you know more about how things work together, and how they fit into the world.

It also helps to not have to reinvent the wheel. There have been billions of people who have walked the earth before us, and in many cases, their knowledge is passed along to us. We can learn from their mistakes; no need to make them ourselves.

And learning can be fun. Experiencing an ‘Aha!’ moment when things click into place and you understand something for the first time feels good. Our brains evolved to solve problems, so using our big brains for their intended purpose feels right.

But what happens if you strip all that away?

A common complaint heard by teachers is “When am I going to use this?” And certainly, it is hard to accurately predict when something you learn might come in handy. You might very well be surprised at how often you call upon something seemingly unrelated in your life.

But what if it never comes? If you learn something that you cannot use in any way, is it still valuable? Or does knowledge only have meaning and utility in the way that it is applied?

Related questions: How do you learn? What’s the most useful thing you’ve ever learned? Why are we fascinated with the unknown? How do we know what we don’t know?

How Do You Deal With Uncertainty?

Being in an uncertain situation can be extremely frustrating. Is there a way you have learned to deal with uncertainty?

Human beings, generally, feel more in control — and therefore, more comfortable — the more they know about something. In fact, that urge has been behind much of the development of science and technology over the last few hundred years. Wanting to know more, about how the world works and ways to modify it, is something that comes naturally to our species.

While this is true at a societal level, it is also true at an individual level as well. The more information we have, the more in control we feel.

For example, someone who has been diagnosed with a disease will often learn everything they can about it. Even very complicated systems, like the stock market or the political realm, people will study in great detail, trying to gain an edge.

In reality, knowing more does not always confer an advantage. So-called experts do not have a better record predicting the future than anyone else. There are plenty of examples of a basketball novice finishing ahead of a diehard fan in March Madness brackets, for instance.

There are certain times and certain situations that are completely out of your control. In that case, what do you do? Can you learn to embrace the uncertainty? Or instead, are there methods to feel more in control of an inherently uncontrollable scenario?

Related questions: What is unknowable? Why are we fascinated with the unknown? How do we know what we don’t know? Why don’t you know what makes you happy?

 

Should We Try To Predict The Future?

Despite many thousands of years of practice, human beings are mostly unable to predict the future. After failure upon failure, the question arises: should we even try?

From big events to trivial ones, we humans are really inept when it comes to divining what comes next. There are some very basic things — the sun will rise tomorrow — and that’s about it. Jobs are unstable. Health issues can arise at any time. Marriages fail regularly. And of course, the farther out in the future you go, the less certain things get.

Admittedly, as our understanding of the universe grows, some predictions come easier. For example, scientists can predict with great accuracy solar and lunar eclipses.

And yet, even science has its limitations. Predicting exactly when a particular breakthrough will or will not happen is an exercise in futility. Science is, inherently, an exploration of the unknown, which means that progress is inherently unknowable.

None of this stops us from trying to predict what comes next. From taking your umbrella with you when you go out for the day, to selecting the numbers for the lottery jackpot, we can’t help but guess what will happen next.

A lot of time, effort, and money is spent regularly on prognostication. Insurance companies have armies of actuaries. Pundits get paid to sound confident in their predictions of the next election, even if they were completely wrong about the last one. Meteorologists use the latest in cutting edge technology in forecasting the weather.

Could all this time, effort, and money be put to better use? Would our lives be better without the constantly mediocre attempts to predict the future? Or is it the case that our efforts in that direction is what drives us to learn? To make new discoveries that can make our lives better in other ways?

Related questions: What is time? How much does your past determine your future? How do you plan for the future? What is your five year prediction? Ten?