Why We Do What We Do

A colleague of mine is of the opinion that “we won’t have truly evolved as a species until we stop doing things simply because we can. Perhaps it is more like we won’t know we have truly evolved as a species until we stop doing things because we can.” I counter with the opinion that we evolve precisely because we do things with no apparent reason other than we can. Discovery is the result of curiosity mixing with exploration and action. This is at the heart of what drives science. As Steve Holmes observes:

Usefulness comes not from pursuing it, but from patiently gathering enough of a reservoir of material so that one has the quirky bit of knowledge…that turns out to be the key to unlocking the problem which someone offers.

The history of scientific advance is filled with examples of individuals exploring the unknown not with the goal of utility, but to quench a driving curiosity and desire to know. The mere satisfaction of this desire is the only justification they need. Yes, bad people do bad things with good knowledge. But as Abraham Flexner observes,

The real enemy is the man who tries to mold the human spirit so that it will not dare to spread its wings.