Utility VS Truth

I was reading Jean Piaget’s book about epistemology, the question of how we know things. I found the book extremely technical and scientific. While I was slogging through this book I eventually got fed up and skipped right to the end to find the practical stuff. I wanted to know how I could apply his findings to my life, not slog through hundreds of pages of technical scientific writing. What I found at the end of the book, under the subsection application, was quite surprising.

Instead of drawing all sorts of conclusions and applications about how we can acquire knowledge quicker or more efficiently, he made the case for patient understanding. He pointed out several scientists in the past which discovered truths have have been inconceivably useful to the future of science. Scientists in their purest form, through the drive of curiosity, have made discoveries which almost all other other science rests upon.

Piaget was a psychologist, and he pointed out something particularly dangerous in the realm of psychology, the utilitarian mindset. We have a tendency in psychology to frame every discovery in terms of how we can harness the knowledge to improve our lives. So, instead of a overly optimistic jumble of applications, he gave us an insight into how we might truly unlock the potential of our minds, and the first step is understanding.

Piaget’s point was that in discovering the truth we will undoubtedly discover the most useful applications, they will simply make themselves self evident. There isn’t a need for us to bang our heads against the wall trying to come up with practical ways to use these scientific discoveries, why not let’s first try an actually understand what is going on.

In the most ironic way possible, I will give you an application of this mindset. In your everyday life, in your conversations, why not just try to figure out, in the most honest possible way, what is going on. The response then is automatic and self-evident. And if the response is not perfectly obvious, then keep trying to figure out what is going on.

For instance, in conversation, you may find that you’re trying to force things or simply come out with your knowledge and prove your worth… let’s take a more humble approach, let’s have a productive discussion about what’s going on, about truth, then let the applications and practical knowledge flow.

Hustle it up!

Leave a Reply