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." My view is 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 a quote attributed to 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. However, enshrining the status quo with laws and encasing it in self-serving cultural taboos won't stop the bad people in the least. It will only harm the rest of us. In an essay penned for Harpers in 1939 ("The Usefulness of Useless knowledge"), Abraham Flexner had this to say,
The real enemy of the human race is not the fearless and irresponsible thinker, be he right or wrong. The real enemy is the man who tries to mold the human spirit so that it will not dare to spread its wings.
Is the Stop-It-Cancel-It-Lock-It-Down-Shut-Up culture amplified by instant and far-reaching broadcast technology forcing us to forget we have wings? It may look that way, but I see many who resemble Nock's Remnants and have hope.