What is the pur­pose of knowl­edge? (2)

Business Day (Nigeria) - - COMMENT - RAFIQ RAJI

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.

Dream awake

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.