How do beliefs about the world, and beliefs about what is valuable, influence the pursuit of knowledge? A pursuit, by definition, requires a goal or answer to a question that the pursuer is attempting to reach. This end, towards which effort is directed, is based upon previous knowledge that says that it will be fruitful in some way. Any knowledge that is pursued is, logically, pursued for a reason. This reason must be that the knowledge could prove valuable in some way to the acquirer of the knowledge.
What is believed to be valuable would thus greatly influence what knowledge is pursued. Since the beliefs about the world help define what is valuable, they too determine the type of knowledge that is searched for and acquired. This type of knowledge, that people think will be the most valuable to them, is the type of knowledge that is searched for and of course attained before the type of knowledge that is unexpected or thought unnecessary. To logically determine the extent to which the values and beliefs of humanity affect its pursuit of knowledge, all types of knowledge must be considered.
Empirical knowledge significantly affects the further pursuit of knowledge; as the type of knowledge that is acquired through experiences, future pursuits of knowledge are frequently based on it. Rational knowledge is applicable because knowledge that is found through experimentation is looked for with a preconceived objective in mind. Metaphysical knowledge must be considered because beliefs about the world and the realm of metaphysics both affect what is deemed valuable. Even the effects of intuitive knowledge must be examined because they are the basis of humanity's search for knowledge for reasons of preservation. The examples of the pursuit of knowledge based on what people believe to be valuable are almost infinite. In the 15th century, Christopher Columbus hoped to find a path to the Indies and to prove that the world was round.
He did so in hopes of achieving the dual blessings of wealth and fame. The queen of Spain decided to finance his expedition because of her metaphysical beliefs in the world and her own interests. She believed that Christianity was the rightful religion and wanted to spread its message. What she believed was her duty towards the natives made her decide to give Columbus three ships so that he would be able to tell the "natives" of Christianity.
Had the queen not believed that the expedition was a useful one, she most likely would have turned it down. The king thought that the mission would be one worth financing because of his potential monetary gain. The same type of concept that finances may be an aid or a detriment to the pursuit of knowledge depending on the perspective of the pursuer holds true today. When scientists hope to conduct experiments they must prove to financiers that their experimentation will be useful in some way - in most cases, a profitable one. This lucrative nature of certain information and type of knowledge may cause people to pursue this knowledge for ulterior rather than purely altruistic motives. In the example of Christopher Columbus' voyage to America, the general populous at the time believed that the world was flat.
This belief of the world retarded many of the potential crew members pursuit of knowledge because they were afraid that the journey was a suicidal one off the edge of the Earth. Beliefs such as this, whether based on fact or not, most definitely affect the pursuit of knowledge. In January of 1880, the New York Times said. ".. after a few more flashes in the pan, we shall hear very little more of Edison or his electric lamp. Every claim he makes has been tested and proved impracticable". Luckily, Edison believed in electricity and its practicality in the real world.
Had he not believed in his pursuit of knowledge or in the possibility of electricity, Edison would have logically abandoned the goal. In 1872, Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, said "Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction". This obviously stopped Professor Pachet from further pursuing knowledge of germs and their possibility, while Pasteur, who believed in his theory about the world, continued to learn and eventually changed medicine and societal beliefs about the world. The belief of some that certain types of knowledge, rather than its uses, are evil has already halted studies in cloning and genetic engineering.
Pursuit of knowledge can be hindered by beliefs of the world that are contradictory to the possibility of that knowledge existing. Even those, however, who search for knowledge purely to gain the knowledge itself search for it because to them it is valuable. Archimedes, Plato, and Einstein all searched for the knowledge they found because to them it was interesting or salutary in some way. If Einstein did not think physics was valuable, he most likely would not have spent so much time studying and analyzing its intricacies. Later, knowledge such as Einstein's theory of relativity proved to be useful to society and was consequently pursued further.
When an aspect of a type of knowledge is uncovered that proves functional, society is more likely to attempt to uncover more related to it. Because of this, the knowledge that we attempt to find, and that which is encountered, is most often knowledge that we believe will help us either materially or philosophically. During Einstein's lifelong quest for knowledge, he said "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds". It is true that the pressures of majority are placed upon he who searches for knowledge or believes things that are not of the societal standard.
Many times this opposition wins whether the person is defeated willingly or not. Those pursuits that are supported are the ones that are most likely completed. Large corporations, such as Microsoft, Compaq and Qualcomm, often sponsor programs, contests, and events that encourage students to pursue science, technology, or similar types of knowledge. In doing this they ensure future employees who have acquired the knowledge necessary to perform well for the business.
In Howard Gardner's book, Theory of Multiple Intelligences, he suggests that our culture and school systems teach, test, reinforce and reward, primarily two kinds of intelligence: verbal / linguistic and logical / mathematical. This knowledge is being instilled into the children of the United States that will be its future. Because Americans value literacy and mathematics, the children are directed towards those areas of study and will thus, having more empirical knowledge in those areas, be most likely pursue those types of knowledge. It is true that some may succeed in their quests whether supported or not, but the ratio to successful, supported attempts at finding knowledge is largely in the favor of the latter.
It seems that on a grand scale, the quest for knowledge is determined by societal values and beliefs and even more so by those that have the power, based on wealth or social status, to mandate that which is pursued. Knowledge is never searched for in hopes that it will hurt the finder of that knowledge. Knowledge that has been procured, which has the potential to hurt humanity or its members, is always found in order to protect an aspect of life that is important to the person with the knowledge. For instance, the hydrogen bomb was created to guarantee that the United States would win World War II. This was in order to protect what Americans thought was valuable - capitalism.
Further proof that knowledge is pursued because of its perceived virtue, is that knowledge is inherently neural and therefore very malleable. What had once been used for fireworks and entertainment in China became used for gunpowder and deadly weapons in the hands of Europeans. To the Europeans, the power that the new knowledge they encountered could yield was valuable. Howard Gardner, the theorist of the seven intelligences, traveled the world and through his travels realized the multitude of different types of intelligences. He saw that certain intelligences were exhibited more prominently in certain societies. Different cultures have varying beliefs and values and these decide what knowledge will be most widely pursued.
The fact that two cultures can use the same knowledge in completely different ways shows that these differing beliefs and values shape that which is pursued, found, and created. Certain values remain constant for most of humanity. Those based on intuitive knowledge, such as the knowledge that it is necessary to eat, drink, protect oneself and survive, force humanity to search for certain aspects of knowledge. Humanity shares this type of knowledge and, for example, has attempted throughout its history to elongate the life of its members and attain knowledge that would allow for a safer existence. It is generally accepted that attaining something perceived to be valuable would improve ones condition. Therefore, the entire reason for pursuing knowledge is improvement of ones situation.
Whether a society attempts to find the cure for a disease that is destroying it, the wealthy finance experimentation that will help augment their riches, or a philosopher contemplates life and studies countless pieces of literature for what he feels to be enrichment, they all quest for the knowledge that they feel is worthy of their search. Since most modern peoples are materialistic, countries, in which a financially rewarding aspect of finding knowledge is not evident, such as in Russia, usually do not have as many innovations as countries such as the United States where the richest man developed a computer language after dropping out of college. If we did not value the Internet and its capabilities of communication we would not use it and so many people would not profit from it. There would not be so many Internet based companies and the innovations and information, such as ways of making Internet connections faster, that come along with them would not be found.
Without motivation of some kind, whether it is the satisfaction of curiosity, or financial gain, knowledge that serves no purpose can only be discovered unintentionally. Knowledge, no matter the specific reason for being attained, is found in hopes that it will serve a beneficial purpose to its recipient. It seems that the basis of all knowledge that is pursued, rather than blindly encountered, is based on values and beliefs of society, the financier, or the pursuer himself. The knowledge that society deems advantageous is most often the knowledge that is pursued, and accordingly, knowledge that is found. Those that have the power to influence values and beliefs of others, have the power to govern knowledge and its pursuit based on their own values and beliefs. Those that have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge value its acquirement and pursue it for that reason.