Francis Bacon’s words which equate knowledge with power are worth their weight in gold. In today’s knowledge-driven society, knowledge is becoming complex.
Its retrieval is not enough. It has to be modelled and applied to solve various dilemmas that confront man. The quest to expand our ‘area of the known’ drives humanity to newer vistas. However, with the ‘area of the known’, our ‘area of the unknown’ increases exponentially. As the American transcendentalist; Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it: “Knowledge “knowing what we cannot know.” Each new insight brings with it a certain grey area which is picked up by another human mind to augment these ideas till they reach our textbooks and become ‘general knowledge’. But how do we know that we know? There exists a causal connection between knowledge and society, which goes both ways — not only does society shape our knowledge but the reverse also holds true. A new religious message, scientific insight or technology that develops within the society holds the power to alter the social order.
That is how the discoveries of nuclear physicists in twentieth century could virtually alter the hierarchy of science. French philosopher and historian Michael Foucault’s works analysed the link between power and knowledge. Foucault asserts that belief systems gain momentum (and hence power) as more people come to accept the particular views associated with that belief system as common knowledge. Such belief systems also define their figures of authority within a particular society, say doctors in a clinic or priests in a church. From such belief systems, certain ideas crystallise which transform and normalise themselves as ‘normal’ and ‘deviant’ within a specific society. The frontiers of knowledge are being stretched each second — even while you read this essay. Human embryos are waiting to be cloned; Androids are being conceptualized and designed and hopefully, someone on the verge of finding a vaccine for AIDS. There in the power of knowledge — the one who organizes knowledge and applies it in current context is the ultimate ruler.
The more information that enters one’s domain, the more accessible it becomes for further processing and consequently, for its application in the real world. If you think all that you needed to know has already been taught, ponder over Oscar Wild’s reflection that “nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” “This statement bears a lot of truth — the best knowledge is that knowledge that is acquired first hand.
Firsthand knowledge is nothing but knowledge of the self. The knowledge of self expands continuously as well — but we must be aware of the ever-changing self. Often we indulge in actions that do not harmonise with our thoughts. When we identify these discrepancies and seek to rectify them, we experience ‘Absolute Knowledge of Self or what is termed as ‘Darse Cuenta’ in Spanish. We can thus visualize our inner selves from an objective point of view and experience infinite peace. Such is the power of firsthand knowledge. In this modern age, second hand knowledge is being increasingly hurled out at us.
In this era of ‘recycled knowledge’, we are being bombarded with all kinds of messages. So be it ‘spam’ in our e-mail inbox or the politician’s election manifesto —we feel this kind of information dissemination is more of a nuisance. This second hand knowledge clutters our mind and blocks our thinking. Knowledge is distinct from simple information.
Both knowledge and information consist of true statements, but knowledge is information that has a purpose or use. From the assortment of information that is thrust at us, we have to use our individual mental ‘filters’ to separate the wheat from the chaff. Knowledge can be granted or withheld, shared or kept secret, and amounts to a source of power in either of these cases. The exercise of power seems endemic to humans as social beings.
Knowledge becomes a source of power when it is shared with others. Knowledge for selfish ends results in the birth of evil. We take refuge in the tale of Ramayana, where Ravana is described as a gifted musician and a knowledgeable authority in the Vedas and the scriptures. He was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and enchanted Shiva with his music. One day, delighted by the demon king’s music, Lord Shiva granted him a wish: Ravana desired that his life could only be ended by Shiva.
As the years passed, Ravana acquired enormous powers through his penance and through the wish granted by Lord Shiva. But, instead of using his powers and his knowledge for the benefit of the world, Ravana used them to attain his own ends. He became conceited with knowledge. Becoming vain with knowledge is akin to being blinded by light.
Knowledge may be used alternatively for social control. Well, think of the God Men and Shamans, who claim to use their ‘secret’ knowledge to enslave others. These impostors try to control knowledge by careful means so as to appeal to social consciousness of those who choose to come to them. According to Plato, this Persuasion is the key to power yielded. Concealed knowledge can be used to take vantage of situations when one group or individual Possesses privileged information and another group or “dividable does not. Regardless of the situational aspect, knowledge is the intellectual and social capital, which could define a society, its progress and its outcomes.
The greatest novel is yet to be written. The most profound poem is yet to be composed. The best painting is yet to be made. There is not a perfect example of a railroad or a highway or a government functioning in the most efficient way possible. Sciences are being fundamentally revised. Newton waited for an Einstein and Darwin waits to be challenged. All these and more are a result of knowledge, its application and its widespread dissemination.
Lives are waiting to be changed by vast knowledge reserves. Therefore knowledge is a source that must be harnessed. Learning through education is just one part of knowledge that can be put to great uses. Knowledge and consequently power can be found everywhere and is waiting to be put to productive use to empower humankind — “Seek and you shall find it”.