Pursuit of Myopic Knowledge & Lost Charm of Pointless Knowledge

Varad Patankar
3 min readMay 13, 2021

“In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place. The thoroughly well-informed man-that is the modern ideal. And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.”

Oscar Wilde

“Keep learning or you will be left behind.”

XYZ Career Guru (or Influencer??)

No sooner did the pandemic strike, LinkedIn was awash with course certificates. Edu-tech companies rolled out discount offers with much glee. “Upgrading” was the buzzword of the time. To be sure, in today’s hypercompetitive world stagnation can be detrimental. However, should all knowledge be a means to a dreamy career? In a country where most run amok in well-treaded career paths, is sacrificing free time as well in pursuit of “productive knowledge” prudent? Or should knowledge be an end in itself?

There is no space for judgement and admonition of this herd behavior of students and employees. This behavior is simply a manifestation of the priorities of the larger society. As we become more opulent on the backs of economic progress our expectations have become more stringent. “I want my e-commerce delivery to happen within a single day”. “My morning coffee should have 23.45 % caffeine, 34.68 % sugar. Nothing more, nothing less.” This finicky behavior & increasing complexity of customers is forcing companies to rely heavily on experts.

And how are experts manufactured? In educational institutes doling out knowledge in silos. The bigger picture gets lost. The druids of these institutes are in turn paid for churning out research papers serving their niche. Any deterrence from this behavior is awarded with slashed research grants. Enhancing productivity becomes yet another part of the job. Non- compliance has only one outcome- swift obsolescence.

“Doing what is urgent leaves you no time to do what is important.”

A closer look at the luminaries of our civilization debunks the mythical correlation between the accumulation of productive knowledge and ingeniousness. History is inundated with polymaths who were curious across unrelated fields. Leonardo Da Vinci was an engineer, painter, sculptor, scientist, draughtsman & architect. Had he been a citizen of today’s society, he would have been some number crunching functional expert spending away his life in a small cubicle.

Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, Copernicus, Leibniz, Marie Curie, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs the list is long. Steve Jobs in his Stanford commencement address talks about his arbitrary decision of taking up a calligraphy course,

“None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life… If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

Not just anecdotal evidence, but neuroscientific evidence also reinforces the beauty of accumulating non-productive knowledge. Brain imaging shows that 95% of the neural activity in our brains is noise. Only 5 % of the activity is responsible for our awareness and conscious thought. In the face of unsolvable problems, the brain cranks up these noise levels even further. Billions of neurons fire randomly to squeeze out solutions. It does not take a science wiz to realise that seemingly pointless knowledge can churn out elegant solutions and give you that “aha” moment.

Imagine a world where knowledge becomes an end itself. Knowledge with no apparent entrepreneurial value is not chucked away. Students take up courses that might be completely unrelated to their career, just because they are curious. Knowledge is allowed to sit and rot inside your mind to get converted into fertile compost for that vague point in future when you are in a dire need of a “Eureka” moment.

Originally published at http://meditationsofavoyager.wordpress.com on May 13, 2021.

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Varad Patankar

Chemical Engineer from UDCT Mumbai, presently pursuing an MBA from the Indian School of Business.