Half Life of Knowledge

By | Tuesday, 22 October 2013

So having seen a recent episode of QI on Knowledge I learned that facts have a half life. That is to say they decay quite rapidly. It isn’t that they were wrong, it is just that further investigation uncovers more information that obsoletes the original information. So maybe it is that they are wrong, but that we don’t know how they are wrong at the time.

I have this conversation however.

1.Did you see QI?

2. Yeah.

1. So knowledge has a half life, all that stuff I said last week is likely to be wrong next year.

2. Yep. Everything I learned at Uni is now wrong. Or at least seventy per cent of it.

1. Yeah and all you learned at School is totally gone. Like Pratchett says, Lies to Children.

2. Makes me wonder why I bothered learning it.

1. You could always re-learn it.

2. What’s the point? It’s going to be wrong again in a few years time.

This is where I stand stunned. I came to totally the opposite conclusion to this. I saw the evidence of facts having a half life not as a reason to never bother to learn but to never stop learning. How can two people of roughly similar strengths and attitudes draw such a binary opposed conclusion.

Surely this is the point. Surely we only know that facts have a half life because we carried on looking, because we learned something and wanted to know more, not less.

So everything you thought you knew was wrong, you have been spouting false information like a broken faucet spews water, so what? That’s a damned fine reason to keep looking and learning, to re-assess, to re-learn to discover.

Or you could just retreat from a world filled with a constant renewing of wonder as we uncover and discover more and claim ignorance as bliss.

What do you choose?

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