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Is Knowledge a Curse?

"In an article titled “The Curse of Knowledge”, it’s noted that as a person learns more about a subject, it becomes increasingly more difficult to discuss that subject with someone who doesn’t posses that knowledge. It simply becomes harder and harder to empathise with them.

This means that the more educated and passionate you are about a subject, the harder you will find it to discuss or teach it to others.

This effect is one of the cited possibilities for why teaching is so difficult a career, since it means that eventually teachers will become more and more disillusioned with the endless wave of perceived stupidity they’re forced to endure."

All of the above is from the article I read online, not my words.
What do you think? Is knowledge a curse?


Closing Statement from W T

Knowledge........information obtained from experience or education.

A lot has been said in this debate/conversation about knowledge.

One may conclude that knowledge, in and of itself, is not a curse. Knowledge is essential in order to function in society, and in order to help others.

Knowledge though, is just the beginning.......there are other things worth seeking beyond knowledge...........

Among those other things worth seeking are............ understanding.......... discernment............and perhaps, if we are fortunate enough, we might obtain...........wisdom.

How we handle the knowledge we have is strictly up to us.

The world is filled with passionate individuals who hold a wealth of knowledge, and who also possess understanding of that knowledge. Wisely they seek to share their knowledge with others, whenever, and wherever they can.

The example of Nan Hauser which is discussed in this conversation is a fine example for all of us. There are many other examples worldwide.

May we all continue to see knowledge as a blessing and use it wisely to better ourselves and others.

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    Oct 16 2013: It can be a curse, if the teacher loses touch with the basics of his/her specialism.

    Losing touch with the basics is a kind of elitism. Sometimes wantonly to increase one's intellectual standing within a group of peers and/or to massage one's ego. Or unwittingly through forgetfulness and insensitivity to student needs. Forgetfulness is probably forgivable and can be rectified by increasing a two-way interaction with students. Wanton elitism on the other hand is wholly unforgivable and usually difficult to rectify. That person, despite his passion, should not be allowed anywhere near a student in my opinion, until he learns to leave his ego at home.

    A show of disdain from a knowledgeable but egotistical teacher towards a student is far more damaging than a show of empathy from someone less knowledgeable. Students are likely to learn more from the latter than they are from the former.

    Knowledge is merely memorised facts anyway, and we should not be expected to go around like walking hard-drives or encyclopedias. To have that much concentrated knowledge (though impressive) is not only a waste of thinking space, but also the 'cone of knowledge' becomes too narrowed to retain contextual relationships towards other disciplines - maybe good for exams, but not for students themselves.

    Retaining those contextual relationships with other disciplines is a good basis for how to think in a panoramic and worldly context - rather than specialising too narrowly and losing touch with those students who may possess amazing potential.

    The stupidity actually lies with the over-specialised teacher who has broken that bond between himself and the as yet unknown potential of his students. He would be better off in another profession that doesn't involve close interaction with other people.
    • W T 100+

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      Oct 16 2013: Your points are very well elaborated.
      What happens many times with teachers who are guilty of this elitist attitude is that originally they did not seek a teaching degree. They are just knowledgeable in an area, and decide to come into the teaching field without having the pedagogy. I think Fritzie's comment sheds light on this.

      The word ego has popped up several times in this conversation........and I think that perhaps this is the root of the reason for knowledge being seen as a curse. In the hands of someone with an inflated ego, even misinformation becomes something to boast about........

      So the problem then is not necessarily knowledge itself, but the person. In what other professions may we observe this type of behavior?
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        Oct 16 2013: I didn't mean to point my finger solely at teachers. I meant any presenter of knowledge whose job it is to inspire others and to move that knowledge forwards. That could be any influential person - parents, bosses, etc.

        Michael Sandel's style of imparting knowledge is one of the best in my opinion. He doesn't just spout his knowledge ad nauseam to a crowded room, he actually interacts with them empathically, respectfully and with genuine interest, asking questions that never belittles anyone, but rather to encourage deeper thought - and all with good humour.

        Listen to how he interacts with his audience in this BBC Radio4 programme "The Public Philosopher"


        This is a fine example of someone who certainly is not cursed in any way by his considerable knowledge.
        • W T 100+

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          Oct 17 2013: Wonderful link. I had never heard anyone hold a debate in this fashion.
          Thank you so much for sharing this. This is precisely how teachers should conduct classes when dealing with controversial issues. What a fine example for educators, as well as anyone involved in leadership roles.

          I highly encourage anyone reading through this conversation to listen to the broadcast linked.
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          Oct 17 2013: Thank you for the interesting link.

          Without doubt, Michael Sandel has a very fine way to moderate the process of learning and understanding, which I noticed the first time here on TED.

          In this particular BBC radio debate, however, he made in my view a crucial mistake.

          From the beginning, he established a certain frame, by calling speakers from the audience by their first names while he was interacting with them. Yet he made one exception, which was a medical doctor, for which he used her last-name as well as her title continuously.

          Although I understand, that as a University professor he might has an unconscious tendency towards these academic distinctions, it did damage the equality of personal opinions he was asking for in the debate.

          Besides this little lapse, I very much like his 'signature style' for interesting debates!
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        Oct 17 2013: Do you think there may also be a link between the considerable accumulation of knowledge and mental agility in some people with high-functioning autism/Asperger's syndrome - the 'curse' being related to their inability to impart that knowledge on others without labelling them as 'stupid' (because they don't have the same level of knowledge)...?

        I have little evidence to support that (as yet) - it is just a thought.

        Given that we are all positioned somewhere on the autistic spectrum, is it possible that one of the curses of knowledge is related to social disability inherent in autism?
        • W T 100+

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          Oct 17 2013: This is a point I had not even thought about.

          Well, I take that back.....I have friends that are always telling me that they just can't find a way to say what they know. They cannot formulate the words into coherent sentences.....when they try, it sounds like a mix of thoughts with no formal structure.

          I don't know why this is so.........I have spent hours discussing this point with them, and asking questions about their schooling, and what goes through their minds at times.

          I have yet to reach a conclusion. Also, having many friends with autistic children, and being an educator, I don't for one minute consider autistic children any less capable of being knowledgeable than their counterpart.

          This "inability" to impart knowledge is quite amazing to think about..............speaking in sign language comes to mind. The human brain, once it realizes that communication is possible, seeks out to find ways to give information and get information..........I feel this is quite a strong desire in humans........Also, think of the blind...........I mean, there are many systems in place for humans with various difficulties in language skills to receive and give knowledge.

          I think your comment brings out a point that helps us to realize how important of a field neuroscience is. Since coming to TED, I have grown in my admiration of the human brain and all it's complexities.

          Here is an article from Neurology Now magazine. Although it does not directly involve our conversation, you might find this new technology very interesting. We are very complex creatures, and many of us have a strong desire to understand what we're made of.........the future holds fascinating gems of knowledge..............I am very optimistic as to what humankind will discover............


          You have given me some food-for-thought. I will think on your words.....thank you.

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