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Knowledge is Good
-- Emil Faber[1]

Knowledge is Good
A possible motto for Everything2

It can be a thrill to learn something new. Adding to the store of facts in my brain -- and sometimes diminishing it (in quantity), when I unlearn a falsehood -- is always worthwhile, in my opinion. And, even though I've never been a great fan of studying[2], I've always enjoyed learning (though not to the point of sophophilia).

Go ahead, teach me something; I dare you!

I feel this way on the day that I learn what a dubplate is, and I feel the same when I learn how to catch a fish with your bare hands. Perhaps a bit of knowledge (a knowledge knugget as I used to call them when I would teach coworkers one thing every day about the computer programs they were using) seems like it will never come in handy; perhaps it's the sort of thing that might save my life someday.

Some famous dead people have opined that the mere joy of acquiring knowledge is, in and of itself, only the first step:

The great end of knowledge is not knowledge, but action.
-- Thomas Henry Huxley

Knowing is not enough, we must apply.
-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

But debate has occasionally ensued, and probably will more and more often in the future, as to whether some knowledge should be used at all. The canonical example of this is the corpus of knowledge from the infamous Nazi medical experiments. While the point is always brought up that many of those experiments were really just sadism poorly cloaked as science, that is really beside the point. The reason most of that knowledge can be thrown out, even before the ethical debate begins, is that it is not relevant to any real medical situation, but rather only to whatever grotesquely artificial predicament the doctor placed the victim in to begin with. But the few cases that did result in real medical knowledge need to be thought about seriously.

This problem comes up in the news occasionally these days with regard to the question of valuable tissues found only in aborted human babies. (Whether or not that is the only source of, e.g., stem cells, may be something that the medical community changes its mind about a few times before coming to a final conclusion, but the ethical questions remain, and will surely come up in other contexts.) However, essentially the same dilemma is glossed over on a daily basis when, for instance, somebody's life is saved by the transplantation into em of the heart of a person murdered hours before.

It has become a political football, which means that it will be discussed in less depth than it deserves, and probably will be resolved, if at all, to nobody's satisfaction.

It is a difficult question. Religious fanatics will give a knee-jerk opinion, as will die-hard humanists. But it is not black and white. What I do know is that, if a person I love is found in a snowbank and about to die of hypothermia, I won't let the doctor refuse to employ Rapid Active Rewarming just because it was validated by experiments at Dachau.

[1] The founder of Faber College, that esteemed center of higher learning in the National Lampoon movie, Animal House.

[2] It amused me to no end that I was voted most scholastic in high school, simply because I was generally regarded as the smartest student there. Scholastic I was not!

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