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Ecclesiastes Prompt

  The book of Ecclesiastes concludes with the words “For in much wisdom is much grief, and increase of knowledge is increase of sorrow”.  I feel that this statement is false.  Knowledge is, more than anything else, a tool, inherently neither good nor evil, neither pleasurable nor a source of pain.  To say that the existence of knowledge must inevitably lead to grief and sorrow is like saying that the existence of a baseball bat must lead to a brutal beating.  Knowledge can be used to cause suffering, but it can be used to an equal, if not greater, degree to stimulate satisfaction and pleasure.

  For evidence of this claim, I would make one simple observation:  Geniuses often enjoy life as much as, and even more than, the rest of us.  Take Richard Feynman, a contemporary example of a very wise and intelligent person.  He was at the leading edge of science in his time; much of his work went towards developing what is now the framework of knowledge used by theoretical scientists today.  Yet Feynman is famous as much for his contributions as for his playful attitude, his tendency towards fun pranks, his enjoyment of life in all possible ways.  He was always in search of new knowledge, and he was always eager to demonstrate this knowledge to friends and colleagues.  Wisdom in no way brought Feynman grief or sorrow.

  But while knowledge may lead to great pleasure, it can also be a source of great sadness.  World War II, for example, could never have occurred on the scale that it did without the invention of devastating new technologies.  Tanks that could drive right over buildings and people, airplanes that could sneak behind enemy lines and bring terror, if not death, to entire countries, and bombs that could wipe small islands from the face of the earth; each of these was developed through the use of new knowledge.  But these things comprise only a small portion of what knowledge has been used for.  Knowledge brought to an end the threat of smallpox as a natural virus; knowledge of the concept of mutually-assured destruction brought the Cold War to a more-or-less peaceful end.  Clearly, knowledge is a many-sided thing; it can cause great problems, but it can also have great benefits.

  Knowledge is a tool because its user determines its outcome.  If an army bent on destruction gains knowledge, thousands, if not millions, will suffer.  But if a medical school searching for a cure for cancer gains knowledge, thousands, if not millions, may be saved from pain and death.  The impact of knowledge depends on the intent of those who wield it, and as long as there are people who wield it with noble intent, it will not be a source of sorrow.