K is for…

KNOWLEDGE!

(I’m handing you over to our guest blogger again today, enjoy!)

This week’s ramble is about KNOWLEDGE. What is it? Where does it come from? How do we acquire it? And, more worryingly, can it be dangerous?

You’ve heard people say someone is “the fount of all knowledge” but I prefer the opposite view. Check out the last two lines of the Francis Duggan poem You Are Not A Fountain Of Knowledge (2008):

“We could live for a million years or longer instead of eight decades or so
And about the great World all around us we would still have much to learn and know.”

Is knowledge simply facts that are “out there” waiting to be discovered by you and me? For example if I wrote the word “quidnunc” would you say, “What’s he on about? What now?” (You certainly could because the word is made up from two Latin words quid & nunc, meaning – what & now!) In English, the word means a gossipmonger or busybody. It was “also used to describe a person who pretended to know everything” (A Dictionary of Trades, Titles & Occupations, Colin Waters, 2002). Is it in everyday use now? Definitely not. Are you going to remember it? Probably not. Has your knowledge, at least temporarily, been increased/improved by knowing this fact? Possibly.

Or is knowledge only what you, as an individual, retain in your memory? In other words it exists only while you remember it. Is there a “general knowledge” out there somewhere waiting for you to discover & learn it? Or is there really only “personal knowledge”? Do you see the problem? Knowledge, the dictionaries say, is “that which is known”. Note, NOT “that which can be known.” A fact can be “out there” waiting to be known, as many pioneering scientists & explorers will tell us. Once discovered, the fact can then become part of your/my “knowledge” but only if we take it in and remember it.

So, can knowledge really be dangerous? It certainly can if it’s about sensitive issues: political, personal, medical, relational etc.

However I’d like to suggest another area where it can be dangerous……. memory. How so? Well if you think about it, from a certain age all of our brains and memory banks stop growing and then begin to decay, to lose cells. We reach a finite maximum number of cells which then begins to decline. As time goes on this loss becomes more and more evident in a person’s ability to remember stuff and to function as they used to. It’s a process called “growing old” and something most of us, should we survive, will have to go through at some point.

What happens can be demonstrated by using the analogy of an empty glass being filled with water. Imagine your memory cells being represented by the water and it being poured into the glass until it reaches the rim of the glass (i.e. like the brain, up to the age at which it reaches its maximum number of cells). If you then need to remember something more what happens? You pour in some more water and, in a perfect experiment, there will be an overflow of exactly the amount you poured in. Which water overflows? The stuff right at the top! The water at the bottom (the older memories) stays where it is. (Incidentally that’s why, I believe, 80-90 year old people can remember their first day at school but not necessarily what they did last week or even yesterday. The new memories for today have displaced other recent memories which were at the top of the glass.)

Now can you see the danger? In order to increase your knowledge, in a particular area, you will have to lose some other knowledge. I don’t want to put you off “learning” but the difficulty, of course, is that you don’t have a choice which knowledge the brain ditches in order to make room for the new stuff. That’s why you need to think very carefully about what you remember! There is no deleted file or Recycle Bin, with your memories in, which you can choose to “Restore”. When they’re gone, they’re gone! Scary, eh!

So then, has your knowledge, actually about knowledge itself, been increased by reading this? And I wonder what knowledge you’ve lost in order to remember this. NOW, if you can, without looking back, tell me what “quidnunc” means!

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One response to this post.

  1. […] looks very “portmanteau-ish” to me. There was the interesting quidnunc from the K is for knowledge blog: that’s actually a Latin portmanteau taken directly into English. There are, of course, […]

    Reply

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