What is the purpose of knowledge? (2)
Decision-making for an unknowable future”, former Bank of England governor Mervyn King and first dean of Oxford’s Said Business School John Kay highlight a resonant example to make the point.
It used to be the conventional wisdom that the build-up of acid in the stomach that supposedly caused ulcers was due to stress and a bad lifestyle. Australian pathologist Robin Warren thought differently, asserting they were caused by bacteria instead. Teaming up with like- minded Barry Marshall, he found that “almost all gastric inflammations and duodenal and gastric ulcers” had one commonality: a bacterium they would call “Helicobacter pylori”.
“Eureka!” yes? You wish. What was a source of humongous profits for big pharm was now to be cured with antibiotics that could be procured for pittance? Warren & Marshall were rebuffed. But they did not relent. “It is now accepted that most gastric ulcers are caused by H. pylori, often acquired in early childhood.” The pair won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
So, what is the purpose of knowledge? It is a rhetorical question at this point. But at the very least, you know enough not to accept the conventional wisdom without doing your own investigations. From the African perspective, using the stomach ulcer ailment as an allegory, there are many who have lost their way in the pursuit of solutions owing to superstitions and bizarre cultural beliefs. But even if you were one swayed by science, you clearly would have been at your wits end following medical advice considering they did not know any better before the dogged pursuit of truth by Warren & Marshall. Beware of the dominant narrative.
I also use the faux “Madagascar covid potion” as an allegory of a broader malaise in our cultures. We rely overly much on untested superstitions and herbalism. These beliefs continue to hamper our progress. In days of yore, we believed flights could only be experienced quite literally in our dreams, with our butt cheeks twisting the long handle of a broom. Not until such silly beliefs were relegated as fodder for relaxing fiction did the idea of mechanical flight blossom and eventually triumphed. Now if you want to experience the joy of flight, you do not need to conjure up one in your sleep. You simply buy a plane ticket. And yet, we continue to hold dear many fictions as “culture.”
You do not need to wear a leopard skin, with a beaded gourd in hand, and shouting out loud incantations in some deep forest to engineer ostracism, stigma or slander. These are human phenomena that have existed and been used for millennia in war and peace times to various ends. Instead of falling victim to the “if