SYSEM Midterm Paper
The Limits of Knowledge
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” -Albert Einstein
As of the first breath of life which was bestowed by God on Adam, a thirst for knowledge was born within the human soul. This thirst made it essential for the human mind to seek knowledge constantly and discover new things and find answers to anything perceived as strange or bizarre; when, why, how? We want to know everything. And it has been a great journey for mankind in the field of knowledge and discovery; the achievements that humanity managed to accomplish in the different fields of knowledge are outstanding. Our thirst for knowledge is what kept and still keeps us moving forward, and it is what separates us from our ancestors and makes the modern life different than the ancient one; without it we wouldn’t have the simple and easy life we have today.
However, while trying to achieve happiness throughout knowledge, some men went too far, and despite that there is a huge number of fields in which one can seek knowledge, forbidden knowledge have always been attractive for some. The secrets of life and death stand as the most tempting, and in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein we see how the thirst of knowledge turns out to be fatal. Many men tried to place themselves as the people who know the secrets of life, but what they failed to realize is that some things aren’t meant to be dealt with or even discussed, and they are better off not knowing and not trying to know. “Learn from me, if not by my percepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.” –Frankenstein (62)
One cannot find a better example for this forbidden kind knowledge than the knowledge of the secrets of life and death. In Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein we have the story of a man who went too far with his thirst for knowledge. Victor Frankenstein spent days and nights trying to achieve something never before achieved; his interest was in bestowing life upon lifeless matters which for everybody else was something impossible and not even worth spending time on. In his journey Frankenstein isolated himself from other human beings and from normal life in pursuing his goal; he avoided every kind of human contact and his obsession with his experiment took over all other aspects in his life. His thirst for knowledge crossed the line. Not only did it affect him on a physical level, it also distressed him on a personal level. Frankenstein’s pursuit made him obsessed with his findings and thinking of nothing else; furthermore, things went worse when he actually made his great discovery and bestowed life on his creature. Victor became more and more arrogant and thought that he was bigger than life. That’s what knowing too much can lead to; it can destroy one’s humbleness, modesty and reason. The story then went on as the creature got out of Frankenstein’s control and brought pain and misery on his creator who realized after it was too late that he made a terrible error by mistaking himself to be God. Only by the end Victor Frankenstein realized that he was truly better off not knowing what he knew. Only after it was too late Victor only understood that trying to know everything can only lead to losing sense of what one might already know. Frankenstein is an example of why some things are meant to be unknown, and also an example of why it is so dangerous to think that one can possibly acquire all knowledge at once. Victor Frankenstein serves as an example of how a man can utterly change when his pursuit of knowledge crosses the line. The secrets of life and death are examples of why men mankind can do better not knowing some secrets of the universe, nuclear weapons can serve as another example, the world used a never before acquired knowledge to create a weapon of mass destruction that only brought pain and suffering on the human race.
Believing that we can achieve the ultimate knowledge of everything leads us nowhere, and this will only bring destruction and disadvantages to the human soul. On the other hand, realizing that our knowledge is limited and that there are far more things that we don’t know and cannot know for sure that than the things we know is the first real step that man can take towards a real and cohesive knowledge. In his essay, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke discusses how the idea that our ignorance is great shapes a more willing personality to learn and accept everything based on the fact that the things we don’t know are way more than the things we know. Realizing that our human nature doesn’t allow us to conceive and know everything at once allows us to be more opened minded. He furthermore focuses on how some things go beyond the human reasoning and trying to analyze them by the human concepts of things takes us nowhere:
“Our knowledge being so narrow as I have shown, it will perhaps give us some light into the present state of our minds if we look a little into the dark side, and take a view of OUR IGNORANCE; which being infinitely larger than our knowledge may serve much to the quieting of disputes and improvement of useful knowledge; if, discovering how far we have clear and distinct ideas …” –Locke (17)
This realization makes a person not only more willing to learn and acquire knowledge, but also makes him tolerance and more able to accept other opinions and discuss different facts with other people. A person who knows the limits of his own mind and knowledge is way more tolerant that a one who thinks he is able of knowing everything. We saw how thinking that one can know the ultimate secrets of the universe makes one more and more arrogant and less willing to look at other people as his equals. Victor Frankenstein thought that he was bigger than life and that he was the only sane man in the world, but it turned out that his sanity brought him nothing but pain and suffering. “When we consider the vast distance of the known and visible parts of the world, and the cast distance of the known and visible part of the world, and the reasons we have to think that what lies within our ken is but a small part of the universe, we shall then discover a huge abyss of ignorance.” –Locke (19)
While I was thinking about the limits of knowledge a quote kept going through my mind, “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.” It is in our nature to always seek knowledge and information, but we must always be careful not to go too far with our needs and temptations, knowing too much can only lead to destruction in the world, and thinking that we can know everything can only lead to a sick and wretched soul. John Locke knew this and warned humanity in his essay of what would happen if we mistake ourselves as the ones who can acquire ultimate knowledge. Victor Frankenstein also knew this, but he learnt the hard way that nature has its own secrets that aren’t meant to be manipulated with, and that some secrets are meant to be secrets, and we are better off not knowing about them.