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08 June 2012 @ 03:04 pm
Knowledge is harmful  
It's not something they teach in school, but it's important to understand that every bit of knowledge is harmful.
It takes resources from our brain. Resources that are limited.
To limit the harm from the knowledge our brain has very important tool: forgetting.
Brain constantly forgets knowledge it acquired in the past.

So, why do we even accumulate knowledge?
Because some knowledge is useful. More useful than harmful.
But from unlimited amount of knowledge available to us, only very tiny fraction of it is useful enough to outweigh the harm associated with accumulating and storing knowledge.

That means it's very important to make right judgment call on what knowledge to accumulate. If you choose to gain [almost] useless knowledge - you would not have time and mental capacity left for getting useful knowledge.

It goes even further than that.
Even if knowledge is useful to somebody else - it does not mean that the same knowledge is useful to you.
The reason for that is our specialization.
For example, if you specialize in software development, then starting from certain threshold, deep math knowledge would do more harm than good. Because effort spent on learning math in depth means less effort spent on getting more relevant/useful/practical for software development skills.

And it goes even further.
Our specialization went so far, that even knowledge that is useful to someone inside your professional industry can still be harmful to you.
One of such example is functional programming.
While useful in some narrow areas of software development, it still does more harm than good for most software developers.
Spending days learning just for the sake of learning does not make sense. We should constantly watch ourselves to check if we are learning right things.

--
I wrote that in response to a suggestion to spend a few days to expand my knowledge horizons.
 
 
 
Denis Novaktaganay on June 8th, 2012 07:24 pm (UTC)
This would be true only if our brain have fixed resource set. But spending days on some useless junk you actually make your brain more capable, so it will serve you better.
And you never can know if this useless junk will be valuable knowledge in the future.
Dennis Gorelikdennisgorelik on June 8th, 2012 07:31 pm (UTC)
Our brain has fixed resource set.

Yes, if there is no other available knowledge whatsoever, then it would be useful to feed any knowledge to our brain, just to keep the brain in shape.

But such situation is extremely rare. Almost always we have much more information available to us than we can keep up with.
It's much better to train our brain with best knowledge available, not just with any knowledge.
occam_agaoccam_aga on June 8th, 2012 10:11 pm (UTC)
The further away a specific piece of knowledge is from practically immediate tasks the less likely you can adequately estimate its usefulness prior to study. And the error can be dramatic.

Besides, learning is not an atomic process, you can learn incrementally starting with very small brain "resources". Basic curiosity developed by humans takes care of the efficient allocation.
Dennis Gorelikdennisgorelik on June 8th, 2012 11:17 pm (UTC)
Yes, sometimes it's hard to properly evaluate how useful knowledge would be.
That's why we rely on such indirect criteria as reputation and general success of the person who's recommends learning specific topic.

Incremental learning is a good tool. It's usually a good idea to stop learning when incremental learning does not result in incremental benefits anymore.

General curiosity usually works well, but when we deal with more complex knowledge sets - it's not enough.