Graham Hills: When knowledge crystallises, it becomes dogmatic

From a lecture by the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde to the Royal Society of Arts, in London

Share

From a lecture by the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde to the Royal Society of Arts, in London

I wish to argue that where once we saw it our duty to impart as much knowledge as possible to our pupils and students, it is now our duty to impart as little knowledge as possible. That is not a new notion. For generations teachers have rebelled against the idea of pouring knowledge into the head, as the Australians say, from the jug into the mug. Long ago Plutarch reminded us that a child's mind was not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled. But the essential intellectual instruments to effect that reform simply were not there. They are now.

I was educated (as were all of you) to acquire as much knowledge as I reasonably could, principally so that I would pass my examinations. I therefore wish now to convince you that the real purpose of education is to acquire as little knowledge as possible commensurate with your being capable, intelligent and, of course, wise.

The influence of the internet is most felt by the regime of explicit knowledge, the know-what. The internet, still in its infancy, is the wonder-child of education. It knows everything that is to be known. It forgets nothing. It is the intellectual equivalent of Aladdin's lamp. It will do anything within reason that you ask it to do and without question. It therefore absolves human beings from spending their lives accumulating knowledge as information. It therefore denies the hitherto accepted purpose of education.

Since explicit knowledge is inescapable, it accumulates in use and in society regardless of its value and its veracity. But from the moment of acquisition it is threatened by obsolescence. More insidiously, the accumulated volume of old knowledge is repellent to new knowledge. As the knowledge within the head crystallises, so it becomes dogmatic and in the end fundamentalist.

This is the great danger of explicit knowledge, unsullied by reason, by reality and buttressed by belief. This is the knowledge which is luggage. It is the greatest threat to human happiness. It is why I advocate that we travel light.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn