It is my opinion that any information is good information, and there are absolutely no circumstances under which one is in a better situation when not posessing a specific piece of information than when one does have that info. Of course, I'm optimistically idealistic, and tend to listen when i'm told that a certain philosophy of mine is inapplicable in the real world.

I'm not speaking of the Man who knew too much-kind of scenario - in that case, another person is aware of the fact of your possession of the said information. For the sake of the argument I'm talking about a real life situation where certain information will leave you in a situation that is worse than the situation you were in before.

My viewpoint is, probably affected by the fact that my young and impressionable mind is as yet untainted by the heavy realities of life, and, being influenced by the freedom-mongering censorship-bashing crowd on Slashdot I'm of a mistakenly conceited opinion that my ability to deal with information is above my emotions.

After much deliberation with a friend, I came to the conclusion that the only thing that might lead to a negative impact from the possession of information is just that - emotions. I do not want to launch into an e2 tradition of bitching about past relationships, so I shall only ask this one question:

Would you be better off never seeing


The following assumes this isn't false information.

Okay, I had thought about leaving it at that, because, well, I thought it would be funny. But I figure I should explain.

Information is harmless. It is inanimate. It is a gun. There is nothing inherantly wrong with guns, it's what people do with them. However, I don't think that said information is always used in a harmless fashion, like a gun.

The information on, while distasteful to some, is simply unpleasent only because we have developed such a response to it. Most of us see a bloody asshole and go "Eww, gross," but some are attracted to it, or think it funny, etc.

The reason I am not sad or whatever about that site is because now I know that I think big, gaping asses are pretty gross. I can deal with this information, and I can digest it, and decide that it is or is not a good thing, which it is not, however, I don't regret the information I am exposed to, because then I can make more informed decisions about other things, like I think that guy might have a rectal problem.

I'm not replying to AntonZ, but the question in the title is regarding information that I would rather not have. And, as such, I'd have to say no.

The first word in the book in my right hand is 'A'. Then Comes an 'L'. Then comes and 'S'...

Can you say retroactive interference? No need to fill your head with worthless trash; it will interfere with your retrieval of useful information.

How about False information? Of course, you could argue that information has to be true... Not an easy thing to argue, though.

I would say that any set of information could be more of an annoyance than a boon in the right circumstances. (Why aren't you memorizing the dictionary in your free time? It's full of information!) I'm busy not learning ring theory as we speak. As useful and interesting as it is I just don't think it's worth my time right now.

Piq: That's a big if.

Only limited information can be harmful. You might be hurt by the fact that your wife cheated on you, but once you know exactly why she did it, you might understand and not be as hurt. Assuming that any piece of knowledge is bad for you presumes that you do not know how to handle it, which would be due other lacking information. Essentially, if there is only one piece of information that you would know, yes, but if we're talking about this in the perspective of omniscence, then no.

Tem42: it's called misinformation, if you knew all the information then you would disregard it as an opinion.

Imagine, for a moment, that you could hear the thoughts of others. You would be privy to their motivations, their opinions about themselves and you, their dreams, fantasies and aspirations. All the information about every person you meet, right there at your fingertips.

Imagine that nobody was aware of this incredible ability of yours.

So, you are sitting in your cubicle at work and things drift to you -- "That promotion would have been mine if I'd been prepared to kiss ass the way Jake does" -- "God, my balls itch!" -- "If I add some beans, I can stretch the meat another day and buy the new shoes Aden needs" -- all information, all the petty, mean-minded or pointless concerns that assail us every day. The human race, as a whole is discontented, and I reckon you would find it hard to maintain any faith in the innate goodness of man after about a week.

Then you're sitting drinking with your friends, smiling and laughing, and one glances at you. "Sheesh," you hear on that little receiver, "she really does think she's funnny, doesn't she? And doesn't she know a fat girl should never wear tight skirts?"

And you're in bed, with your lover. The sex is great. You reach the point of climax, and there in your mind flashes the face of Catherine Zeta Jones, or James Marsters, or, gods, I don't know... Kermit the Frog perhaps.

Now, finally, imagine that someone discovers your power. Watch them replay their thoughts, see the dismay on their face.

Is there some kind of information we're better off without? Oh yes, I think so.

I agree with piq; partial information can be harmful.

Imagine a hypothetical situation (I call it hypothetical because I don't actually know the correct numbers for the data).
Datum A: One person per year is killed by an airbag.
Datum B: One thousand people per year are saved by an airbag.
Person X does not know A or B.
Person Y knows A and does not know B.
Person Z knows A and B.

Person Y's best information is that airbags are dangerous. This may lead person Y to disable the airbags.

Two things to note: First, person Y is in a worse situation than either person X or person Z. Partial information has led person Y to do something which he/she would have been better off not doing. So X, with no information, is better off than Y, with partial information. The second thing to note is that person Z is in the best situation: X has no reason to turn off the airbag, and Z knows not to turn it off, so they're both in the same situation as far as that goes, but Z has made a conscious decision about not turning it off. Z cannot be misled by Y; X could be.

Actually, I'm going to posit that there is a narrow category of information that an individual is better off not having. (Aside from the agreed-upon lies and partial information that lead to incorrect conclusions.)


I go to the same deli every weekend for breakfast, and as a regular I've taken a liking to many of the people who work there. I recently overheard the boss talk about his plans to go duck-hunting that afternoon, and I almost immediately realized I'd be happier not knowing that: I'm unhappy knowing that my money (in whatever small way) is contributing to animals being killed, and knowing that a boycott (in whatever small way) would also negatively impact everyone else who works there. This specific example is a subjective emotional response on my part, contingent on my personal misgivings about hunting, but everyone has analogous buttons. (As an aside, consider that if he'd admitted to hunting dogs or cats, many more people would have much stronger reactions than I did.) In cases like this, "happier" does mean "better off" because there's no tangible or emotional benefit provided by the information.


If the information does provide some benefit, we could be faced with the task of weighing a negative emotional impact against personal improvement by way of introspection, or with the more difficult task of weighing emotional impacts against tangible impacts. The specific answers will vary from person to person because they're so heavily subjective, but even learned information with a partially positive impact can still have a net negative impact on the listener.


An entirely separate discussion ensues if information has a net negative personal impact, but also motivates the listener to contribute to some positive change affecting other individuals or society as a whole. Innate human altruism may cause the listener's pride at such an outcome to outweigh the initial reaction. Otherwise, there is still the question of whether the transmission of that information had an overall net positive impact; that is to say, whether the positive change outweighs the negative personal impact on the original listener. This matter involves balancing needs and responsibilities both among individuals, and between individuals and society. The astute reader will recognize this as a fundamental conflict spanning the whole of human existence and reaching all the way back to the first primate troop larger than a single immediate family.


As Demeter said, there's a lot of information out there that will upset you, and most of it isn't useful. Unfortunately, there's no way to extrapolate a protocol for avoiding information you're better off not having. You only really know the usefulness of a piece of information after you've learned it, and a comprehensive filter would catch a lot of inocuous things as well.


Thanks to lizardinlaw for prodding a more comprehensive writeup out of my brain.

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