I am interested in disinterested knowledge

I am interested in disinterested knowledge

Disinterested knowledge is the energy bunny. It generates the energy for exploration and for overcoming some of the inhibitions consciousness places on the unconscious.

Disinterested knowledge is an intrinsic value. Disinterested knowledge is not a means but an end. It is knowledge I seek because I desire to know it. I mean the term ‘disinterested knowledge’ as similar to ‘pure research’, as compared to ‘applied research’. Pure research seeks to know truth unconnected to any specific application.

Studying disinterested knowledge is like taking off a month every year to visit a strange new land. Curiosity is reinvigorated and new meaning is created.

Knowledge is like a jigsaw puzzle. We have created many puzzles in coping with reality and when we receive a new piece of knowledge that does not fit our present puzzles we forgetaboutit (Italian word for ‘forget about it’). However, if through disinterested knowledge we have created new puzzles within which the new knowledge might fit we might find a whole new meaning in life.

Our mind is constantly working for us and when we do not give it a worthwhile project, i.e. a new puzzle, it will just waste away in boredom or worry.

Instrumental knowledge is interested knowledge. Instrumental knowledge is the life blood of a value system that places the maximizing of production and consumption as “Number One”.

Disinterested knowledge is the un-knowledge, it is the non-instrumental knowledge. Disinterested knowledge is an alien and clumsy word in a society that places maximum value on production and consumption. Disinterested knowledge is not a catalyst of production and consumption but it is the catalyst of creativity. Disinterested knowledge is the mixing bowl of creativity.

Creativity is the synthesis of the known into a model of the unknown. The value of the unknown is yet to be determined. Creativity requires a comfort with the unknown.

Disinterested knowledge is a means to defragment your brain.

Have you ever studied disinterested knowledge?

Do you think it is important to love to learn?

there is no such thing as disinterested knowledge…

knowledge is an artificial human creation that exists only in the human mind… as a human created it, it has their (the creators) interest in the blue print. as a human interprets it, it has their interest in the examination…


That comment makes me sad. I am sorry you have not yet discovered the difference.

Chuck - leaving aside, for the moment, your syntactical violence and your condescension, I am left to wonder what your point is. Can you give us an example of “disinterested knowledge”?

I can. The history of mathematics is deeply influenced by thinkers seeking ‘disinterested knowledge’, which is more commonly called basic research. Basic research is simply inquiry which is not constrained by the requirement that it aim at a particular target. It is shooting an arrow of creative thinking into the air, and painting a target where it lands.

A couple examples offhand of basic research in mathematics, with arguments for how important that research ended up being:

  1. Euclidean geometry. The geometric facts used to calculate distances, angles, etc. for practical purposes were well known to the ancients. As a result Euclid discovered little of immediate practical use in geometry. He did not intend to. His aim was simply to understand geometry as a unified organism flowering forth from a few simple axioms. Today, we recognize Euclid’s axiomatic approach as a great intellectual achievement with tremendous theoretical and practical power. But he was simply exploring an interesting mathematical structure unconstrained by the need to measure land or build a bridge.

  2. Riemannian geometry. The great mathematician Riemann developed a precise mathematical framework for working with non-Euclidean geometries, which at the time were a pure curiosity. A few decades later, Einstein discovered that this geometry was just what he needed to describe the shape of spacetime.

  3. Knot theory. It began as just an exploration of how knots could be turned into one another, and the geometric space surrounding a knot. Today it turns out that knot theory has important applications in chemistry, biology, and physics.

Drawing from these examples and others, I propose that basic research is a way of seeing beyond the valley of the known in which we currently reside. Research projects which are directed at solving a specific problem will stay in the valley so long as it contains whatever is needed to solve the problem. Basic research, being unconstrained by the need to quickly move towards a solution, is freer to venture out of the valley.

Granted, sometimes a practical problem is so hard that it spurs exploration of the unknown in a way similar to basic research. An example of this would be the mathematical innovations of codebreakers in World War II. Nevertheless, basic research provides a valuable complement to more practically oriented inquiry. Down the line, a direction of inquiry that was once merely “interesting” frequently becomes important and practical. I believe that this is because we have an intuitive understanding of what matters in a system that leads us to be interested in it, but that understanding cannot always be expressed in concrete, practical ways. Sometimes you just have to follow that intuitive interest and see where it goes.

That’s analytical “knowledge”. The phrase makes sense, yes. All mathematics falls into that category. If that’s what Chuck means, I will nitpick here and say that he might have simply asked “Have you ever studied mathematics”?

Probably everyone here has.

I used math in my examples because it’s an effective example of what I think Chuck is talking about. Math furnishes many examples of the surprising value, both intrinsic and practical, of pure “disinterested” inquiry. But there are examples from other fields as well. Physics, chemistry, biology, history, psychology, etc. all have enthusiasts who are motivated more by curiosity than by practical problem solving.

I believe that my argument could be developed for those fields as well; namely that unconstrained, curiosity-motivated inquiry not only has intrinsic value and beauty, but frequently plays an unexpected role in more immediate “practical” applications. For example, the development of general relativity (which depended upon Riemannian geometry) was not motivated by any practical application I know of, but it is now used to make satellite GPS accurate.

Finally, to your comment about “analytical” knowledge. Math is condensed into a framework of analytical knowledge to eliminate ambiguity, but it has its origins in a very creative synthetic world of the imagination. I find it strange then to call mathematical knowledge “analytical” even if that is technically correct in some sense. Either way, analytic/mathematical knowledge is a small subset of pure, “disinterested” inquiry.

Coberst I really am interested in this perception of yours sincerely.

Can you give some examples of dis-interested approaches to knowledge?

I particularly believe that men were originally indifferent to each other and this thread of yours may help me in my own dealings.

Several of my recent OPs are focused on psychology. I am a retired engineer and this is my first serious contact with psychology. I find it interesting, invigorating, and delightful.

I have been posting similar posts for more than three years. I have been a self-actualizing self-learner for 25 years. I think that our society must develop a much higher level of intellectual sophistication if our species is to survive the next 200 years.

I think it is imperative that many more people become self-actualizing self-learners. Like Socrates I think that the unexamined life is a shame and a great loss to the individual and to the community.


Thank you for your comprehension. I have been trying to sell this idea about the importance of disinterested knowledge for a couple of years but most people find it to be an alien idea that fails to really register.

Math is an excellent example.

I am a retired engineer and have been doing math for years. Only recently have I begun to understand math. I have also been studying cognitive science and this has opened a whole new world of understanding. It is a real shame that our educational system has left us so intellectually handicapped and with such negative attitudes toward learning.

It started for me in 1981 while reading about the war in Vietnam and readuing about the civil war aspect between the North and South vietnamise. This started me questioning the nature of civil war and this led me to studying our Civil War in America. Since then one question led to another and I have been following my interests and questions ever since. It has become my favorite hobby.

I think that basically a person needs to follow their interest and curiosity. I think that one also needs to study Critical Thinking so that they can more easily do this self-learning without the need of a teacher.

CT (Critical Thinking)

“The noblest exercise of the mind within doors, and most befitting a person of quality, is study.”
William Ramsey, Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry, 1904

“Understanding is a kind of ecstasy.”
Carl Sagan, Celebrated Scientist

I once asked a philosophy professor “What is philosophy about?” He said philosophy is “radically critical self-consciousness”. This was 35 years ago. Only in the last five years have I begun to understand that statement

I took a number of courses in philosophy three decades ago but it was not until I began to study and understand Critical Thinking that I began to understand what “radically critical self-consciousness” meant.

I consider CT to be ‘philosophy light’. CT differs from other subject matter such as mathematics and geography in that it requires, for success, that the student develop a significant change in attitude.

Anyone who has been in military service recognizes the significant attitude adjustment introduced into all recruits in the eight weeks of boot camp. During the first eight weeks of military service each recruit is introduced to the proper military attitude. During the eight weeks of basic training there is certain knowledge and skills that the recruit learns but primarily s/he undergoes a significant attitude adjustment.

I would identify the CT attitude adjustment to be a movement from naïve common sense realism to critical self-consciousness. It is necessary to free many words and concepts from the limited meaning attached by normal usage—such a separation requires that the learner hold in abeyance the normal sort of concept associations.

The individual who has made the attitude adjustment recognizes that reality is multilayered and that one can only penetrate those layers through a critical attitude toward both the self and the world. To be critical does not mean to be negative, as is a common misunderstanding.

If we were to follow the cat and the turtle as they make their way through the forest we would observe two fundamentally different ways that a creature might make its way through life.

The turtle withdraws into its shell when it bumps into something new, and remains such until that something new disappears or remains long enough to become familiar to the turtle. The cat is conscious of almost everything within the range of its senses, and studies all it perceives until its curiosity is satisfied.

Formal education teaches by telling so that the graduate is prepared with a sufficient database to get a job. Such an education efficiently prepares one to make a living, but this efficiency is at the cost of curiosity and imagination. Such an education does not prepare an individual to become critically self-conscious.

If we wish to emulate the cat rather than the turtle we must revitalize our curiosity and imagination after formal education. That revitalized curiosity and imagination, together with self directed study prepares each of us for a fulfilling life that includes the ecstasy of understanding.

I think that radically critical self-consciousness combines the attitude adjustment of CT and combines it with the curiosity of the cat and then takes that combination to a radical level.

A good place to begin CT is: bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Educ/EducHare.htm

Aporia - forgive me, but I think that “technically correct” is correct enough. I also think that eliminating ambiguity should probably be the aim of seeking knowledge, if knowledge indeed exists. It doesn’t seem too much to ask. Nigh on to a requirement, and not just an accidental quality of knowledge. That the pursuit of it may begin in the imagination is a psychological fact, if it is a fact at all, and is accidental to the acquisition of knowledge.

In any event, I am far from alone in calling mathematics a form of analytical knowledge. The list of Big Time Philosophers, logicians and mathematicians who agree is, well, quite long.

I will admit that, the more of chuck’s thinking on this topic I read, the less I understand. Chuck has called himself a self-actualising self-learner for as long as I have been reading his posts, and I still don’t know quite what he means by it. He seems to have some kind of a hard-on for the educational system (whatever that may be), but his examples never seem to be (to me) actual examples.

Some day, when I have grown up, I’ll stop asking. For those who understand him, I am sure he is an unmitigated joy to read.

Hi Faust,

Aporia’s comment:

“but it has its origins in a very creative synthetic world of the imagination. I find it strange then to call mathematical knowledge “analytical” even if that is technically correct in some sense.”

is dead on.

I believe that you are an intelligent person but your resort to scholasticism is not only intellectually dishonest but you yourself have discredited many of the philosophers that would be appropriate to your list.

There are very few people here that are legitimate mathematicians but I am certain that they would all agree with Aporia.

P.S. I am a big Coberst fan.

Well, Ed, I guess you told me.

Scholasticism, huh?


Me? Discredit philosophers?


I dunno.

Maybe you would read some A. J. Ayer, and get back to me on that.

This is basic technical philosophical stuff I’m talking here.

Extremely basic.

Very basic.


Hey Faust, you dishonest, arrogant, bastard

Oops, I guess that I can not prove that you are a bastard. Sorry!

I’m trying to find something on A. J. Ayer. There is more than enough stuff to read.

This includes a tip off that you would use Hume’s classification for analytic knowledge, which I believe leaves more than enough room for Aporia’s (and now my) reference to be valid about mathematical processes and structure.

You could learn more about this matter in the book Henri Poincare editied by Stephen Gould. (Yes that Stephen Gould)! Lots of problems with it. Not the Holy Grail or anything. In fact I got bored and quit after awhile. You don’t need to read it, or get back to me, or anything.

It’s not so simple though. It provides content and context and maybe even some insight and meaning. I hope that does not bother you.

Do you have a specific reference for A J Ayer in mind?

Ed, dude. My point is that mathematics produces tautologies. That’s analytic knowledge even to Kant. And analytic knowledge is mathematics. And only mathematics (logic). You don’t need to be self-actualised, self-educated or self-absorbed to learn about mathematics. You don’t need to be on some groundbreaking quest for self-awareness, or to post incessantly about what your bad self is doing all the friggin’ time, or how you bad self is so superior to everyone else all the time to seek “disinterested” knowledge.

Just pick up a math book.