Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Knowledge Isn’t Everything

The Internet is great. It is one of the best things to come out of the 20th century. There are people out there who spend all their time browsing the web trying to learn as much as possible. I tend to do this as well.

One issue is that knowledge, while making you less ignorant, does not necessarily make you more intelligent or wise.

I will use the quest for artificial intelligence as a metaphor. The most knowledgeable website in the world is probably Wikipedia, but that doesn’t stop it being about as intelligent as the average house brick. The quest for an artificial intelligence is to create something that can process huge amounts of information. Processing is thinking - you need to think about the knowledge you have before you can apply it.

Knowledge can help you in many situations in life. You can’t use Google and Wikipedia to solve all the problems that you come across. Ultimately it is your thoughts and actions that determine what sort of life you will have.

Another danger of the Internet is there is so much information out there, not all of it true, that you can almost always find something to support the most abhorrent of opinions. There are all sorts of communities out in the web that have never had a voice before. People that share stupid, dangerous and very rare beliefs are now able to find each other and back up their beliefs. Groups like women haters, man haters, anorexics, the anti-vaccine lobby, climate change deniers and many more.

The way not to be sucked in by such groups is to do a bit of critical thinking and to find differing opinions. If you read some of the information put out by anti-vaccine groups you would be horrified and maybe never vaccinate your children. But just do a little bit of thinking, a bit of research and you will change your mind.

A major figure behind the anti-vaccine movement was Dr Andrew Wakefield who has been discredited time and time again. There has been clinical study after clinical study proving beyond all doubt that vaccines stop the spread of disease. You must remember what the world was like before vaccines and antibiotics. The majority of children died before they became adults. Horrible diseases like smallpox killed almost 50% of the people it infected. It was a number of horrible painful diseases that scarred you for life.

Now an anti-vaccine person would simply say that there is a conspiracy against the great Dr Andrew Wakefield and that the evil drug companies that control our governments are behind it. The real purpose of vaccines is to keep us quiet and compliant - a type of mind control… And other batshit crazy stuff that there is no evidence to support - even circumstantial.

When it comes to the Internet, and knowledge in general, you have to go by the majority of opinion in a given field, provided you aren’t an expert in that field. If you profoundly disagree, but are not an expert become one. I am not a health professional. If 99% of doctors say that vaccines are necessary you should follow their advice. Things get tricky when the experts are divided down the middle or there isn’t much information about a subject. (This has happened to me with some medical issues I have had in the past.) In these cases you get to make up your own mind.

Achieving wisdom is a difficult thing and knowledge is only one aspect of wisdom. You need to think critically about the knowledge you have. Be interested in other people talk to them about their beliefs and opinions - argue. You need to live a life.

1 comment:

  1. And don't forget that the mainstream media loves to create the impression that the experts are divided down the middle, when they infact aren't.
    (A major reason i no longer waste time watching TV news. Nope, you've had your chance, this generation is just moving on.)

    I mean look at the whole climate-change thing. Even now, so many people still believe that expert opinions are divided on the subject, because for so long the media willfully and maliciously continued to sustain the impression of an ongoing controversy, purely for their own profit. These people make me sick, i'm just so done with the whole industry.