Monday, 22 June 2015

The Side Effects of Knowledge on Human Mind

Ever wondered in life, ‘I shouldn’t have known this’? Well, if you haven’t,  you certainly will, at some point in your life.

As the title say, this article is about the side effects of gathering too much knowledge on an individual’s psychology and does not talk about the side effects arising from the misuse of knowledge (e. g. One can argue about invention of nuclear bombs).

I assume that we all agree on the very basic nature of knowledge that it is a driving force behind our actions and a tool we apply in different ways in our life to achieve our goals. To consider one aspect of knowledge on human behavior, let’s take a simple example:

Assume that you are attending a seminar on applications of physics in daily life phenomena, and a professor of physics and a student in commerce are sitting beside you. The speaker of the seminar is mistaken on certain critical aspects in the lecture. What do you reckon would be the response of the two guys sitting beside you on those mistakes made by the speaker? If I present the most common scenario, the professor would stand up and correct the speaker.

Now, add to it a common classroom scenario. Suppose, right before the seminar, you were having a discussion on similar topics with the professor and the commerce student. Now, would it be the commerce student or the professor who stands up and tells the speaker of the seminar about his mistakes. If I apply common experience here, it will still be the professor, not just because he was the first to catch the mistake; but also he had more confidence and more urge to correct that mistake.

Let’s take another example. Take the process of human growth starting from when we are children. A baby has very little gathered knowledge and has no business with the outside world. As we grow up, until around the age of 10, we are just gathering as much knowledge as fast as we can and accept everything around us to be the way the world has to be. As we grow, collect experiences and reach youth, we start learning from our and others’ experiences that there are many problems existing around us in the society. As we grow more and learn more, we reach a point where frustration starts creeping in, because we know things could be better around us, in our family, in our society.  This frustration, this sense of urgency continues until we reach a point of achievement (that we have solved or contributed towards solving some problem around us) or saturation (we agonize so much on our society’s conditions that finally we adjust, giving up trying to change it).  Now compare it to the mindset of a person who is born in the hills far from the hassles of a society, with knowledge just enough to survive.

Let’s take another example. It is related to psychology of slaves during the period of slavery in America in 17th and 18th centuries. There are numerous citations about how continuous slavery had changed the mindset of people who were born in slave families. Two such articles are The Mask of Obedience and The Psychological Effects of Slavery and Colonization on the Negro. The basic idea is that the slaves went into a phase of self-loathing and depression that they were good for nothing other than being slaves until there was a propagation of ideas of freedom by pioneers like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. The article The Mask of Obedience also talks about the misery and depression among slaves. They had an idea of freedom and they did nothing to rise against their masters. What’s worse is that just the idea of freedom kept them in agony and still they didn’t gather the courage to fight for their freedom until they were led by abolitionists.  From the same article, I quote “Oppression driveth the wise man mad.”  meaning  “A person of intellect would go mad by such an oppression.”

What do all the above examples have in common?

The sense of Urgency

What the above examples have in common is a need for change, an urgency to make things right. It is as simple as that – unless you have an idea that something better exists, you are happy (or live with) what you have. Once you know, you can get something better, you start craving, agonizing yourself to achieve/ acquire that something.  If you are unable to achieve it, you keep yourself in a state of craving, a state of misery until you finally give up.

Knowledge is the driving force behind your senses towards a better life. In other word, knowledge shows you that something better exists; and if your are unable to harness your knowledge towards achieving it, you stay in a state of agony.
Essentially, the more knowledge you gather, the more comes the realization of what is wrong in the world and what needs to be corrected.  For many people, an excessive amount of knowledge becomes difficult to handle. People often forget that when we know something can be improved, we have two choices

1.    Let’s do something about it.
2.    Let it be the way it is and move on.

But, the important thing to note is that “Keep agonizing yourself and keep craving about it without taking any action” is not one of the choices.  However, people often choose it, and that is when knowledge becomes difficult to handle i.e. In the absence of action or the ability to let go.


  1. If you really came up with this yourself .. you are a very gifted person who can think critically.
    Good Stuff :)

  2. awesome :) loved ur thoughts ... full of truth about thought and action difference

  3. A trick question was asked at a Beauty Pagent. The question was 'if ignorance is bliss, why do we seek knowledge'? I remembered this question after reading your article, which encapsulates the answer.

    I believe human beings are curious by nature and some individuals are more curious than others. They don't accept the existing situation and always seek answers to questions that come to their mind. They observed nature keenly and try to find answers to questions to certain phenomina that they observed. E.g. Leonardo Da Vinci observed that the colour of sky looks blue. He attempted to find the reason and succeeded in that quest.

    Ignorance may appear to be bliss because man accepts the situation he is in and hence he is happy. However, if he gets to know that there is a possibility to improve upon the situation, he would definitely like to do so. However, most of us are not willing to take the efforts to find answers and implement the findings to improve upon a particular situation.
    Most of the inventions and discoveries that have helped the man to evolve and develope and progress can be attributed to a few individuals who had great minds. That is how the wheel was invented and then reinvented over and over.
    Your article succintly brings out this aspect of human beings, a few great minds who are givers and the rest just the receivers. You have a great style of writing. Keep it up.


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