Inside knowledge: Why we like to know useless stuff

 作者:管锈     |      日期:2019-03-01 06:15:06
Tony Clerkson/Alamy Stock Photo By Daniel Cossins IN 1969, Robert Wilson, the first director of Fermilab near Chicago, was asked by a US Congressional committee whether the new particle accelerator he was seeking funds for would aid the fight against the Soviet Union. “This new knowledge has all to do with honour and country,” he said. “But it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.” Wilson’s full testimony is a robust and elegant defence of the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. But it raises its own questions. In what sense is knowledge “worth it”? And what motivates our urge to acquire it? Knowledge is more than just information. Even the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, owner of one of the smallest brains we know, forages to maximise information about its environment, and so its chances of staying alive and reproducing. But as far as we know C. elegans, or indeed any species other than our own, doesn’t ponder the universe’s origins; they certainly don’t publish papers on it or build particle accelerators to find out (see “Knowledge: Of chimps, curiosity and quantum mechanics“). Knowing as we understand it involves abstracting information and interpreting it for use at different times and in other contexts. “When you have knowledge, you can do lots of things,