Once upon a time, in a garden up in the skies, grew a giant tree. Angels hobnobbed with the local populace, serpents coiled about freely, a particular man and woman enjoyed each other’s companionship.
The only part of the tale that raised some rock-style eyebrows was the kind of fruit growing out of the aforementioned tree. Everyone quickly agreed on the commonplace apple and things were settled.
The apple tree got much attention because chomping into its apples could, swear to God cze I am quoting directly on this one, cause some irreversible damage to all of humanity.
Instead of calling the tree pomum ligni like normal people do, the garden folk called it the tree of knowledge. Long story short: the woman I mentioned before spoke parseltongue, got into a negotiation deal with a serpent, lost, bit into an apple from the tree of knowledge, and here we are: A humanity that believes eating an apple a day is how you prevent irreversible damage to yourself.
The tale sounds starkly apropos for the 21st century. 90% of all knowledge was created in the last two years. The proliferation makes Moore’s law look lazy. We chomp on these new apples like starved cows. Because knowledge has been the starting point for philosophy, science, and history. For, above all, power.
This is what makes prophesy in the tale somewhat extraordinary. We thought we have been making progress and yet the world seems like a train-wreck. Irreversibly damaged.
Knowledge isn’t a piece of fruity intelligence anymore. It has branched out into information, data, and one particularly fecund branch: bullshit. And it’s becoming increasingly hard to tell the difference.
The more we know, the more exposed we are to how little we know. Socrates admitted as much when there was 99.99% less information than today.
The faster we know, the faster the knowing becomes irrelevant. Knowledge isn’t power anymore. It’s more like a prolonged power failure. You don’t know because you have been blind. You prefer to drink from the firehose when something is burning beside you.
I got into reading only a couple of years ago. I remember it being fun. Now, every book I read leaves me with five more books to read which means I spend more time wondering what to read next than actually reading.
For the last few months, when people asked me what I am reading, I haven’t had an answer. Because I am trying to figure out which of the 20 odd books I am considering will maximize the amount of crap in my head.
Knowledge begets knowledge, not wisdom. It’s like stalking people on the socials. When you are stalking one person, you are also looking for more people to stalk. Instead of enjoying the book I am reading, I am anxious about all the stuff that’s unread, unconsumed, unknown.
The journey between knowledge and wisdom is not more knowledge. It’s understanding. The kind of quiet spirituality that has long been responsible for the world’s unending progress. As this wonder called the internet came along, we believed we had arrived at the final frontier of knowledge. Instead what we got was,
Let’s determine the validity of every statement you make and look for an opportunity to call you an assface;
Why is everyone except me so stupid and lame and annoying?;
I am the chosen one and it’s my duty to change the world by laughing at everyone trying to do something with their lives.
And we are asking the one worst question that can be asked during these times: “why do you think so much?”
Asking someone why do you think so much in this context is like asking them, “hey, why bother with being thoughtful, independent and brave when you can just be shallow, tiring, judgemental and fill your emptiness with other people’s pain?”
The Internet cannot be blamed for all this. That’s plain dumb. The Internet became an alternate channel to further our movement away from ourselves. The apple was forbidden because it moved you outward.
We’ve become addicted to a shallow consumption of knowledge as an alternative to the deeper act of understanding. There’s a concept called the curse of knowledge. Here is the technical, inevitably boring definition:
“The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.”
The real curse, the prophecy of the damage was not the fact that we will become knowledge machines. It’s that we wouldn’t understand one another. That we would mistake accumulation for advancement. Epistemology is your escape from erasure. See my point?
Information is the curse and you are looking for information to lift the curse. You are alive and yet you prefer to live through a reflection.
The curse can only be lifted by talking to one another beyond our shallow levels of knowledge. By coming to comprehend the complexities we share. About being there for someone instead of something. About making life an attempt at love, kindness, empathy, generosity, forgiveness. Or what it meant to be human.
The curse was that you will know so much you will never find out. What can be more irreversible, more damaging, more dead than that?