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If You Could Change by “Inserting” Knowledge… Should You?

An education professor is surprisingly sympathetic to just “inserting” Correct knowledge to produce desirable changes

John Tillson, philosopher of education and author of Children, Religion, and the Ethics of Influence, asks if, instead of drills and homework, what about just “learning” a skill via a computer cable plugged into the back of your head, the way Neo learned karate in The Matrix?:

Discussing the pros and cons of just acquiring knowledge by mere insertion, Tillson is surprisingly friendly to the idea, especially in terms of reprogramming bad ideas:

Even if we dodge the threat of replacement by downloading a modest suite of knowledge at a suitably gentle pace, we might still worry that knowledge insertion would make us become someone we wouldn’t want to be. This isn’t always a problem. Suppose Neo was racist and wanted to stay racist. I’d say that losing his racism as an unexpected and unwanted side-effect of uploading kung fu would be objectively serendipitous. Any antecedent hostility to becoming non-racist wouldn’t constitute a problem: it should be a welcome becoming.

However, while unwelcome becoming isn’t always a problem, it might sometimes be. Perhaps we risk losing the concerns and interests that hold a friendship together. If so, we should be careful about what knowledge we insert, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid insertion as such. Human lives are full of unpredictable flux and change, so the problem of unwelcome becoming is equally a problem for doing anything at all – including not inserting knowledge.

John Tillson, “Imagine you could insert knowledge into your mind: should you?” at Psyche

The obvious problem with Tillson’s approach is that Neo’s self — if it ever existed — has dropped out of the picture. He has not discovered the value of other selves as an experience in his life; he has merely been reprogrammed. There is no “welcome becoming,” as Tillson puts it, because the experience never happened.

The nature of human life is a journey. If we don’t make the journey, it is not really our life. Doubtless, some would prefer to just program people to be whatever they want. This struggle might make another good sci-fi movie.

You may also wish to read: Your mind vs. your brain: Ten things to know


Do we really have free will? Four things to know

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If You Could Change by “Inserting” Knowledge… Should You?