“In some remote corner of the universe, bathed in the fires of innumerable solar systems, there once was a planet where clever animals invented knowledge. That was the grandest and most mendacious minute of universal history. ” — Friedrich W. Nietzsche
What does he mean ? Is knowledge an invention ? And why is this mendacious ? Schopenhauer, before him, made the mistake of assuming that religious sprung from a metaphysical sentiment inherent in all men. Nietzsche denies this. He claims that Gods were invented. Art was a particularly creative invention — poetry, for instance, by somebody who had the rather curious idea of using a certain number of rhythmic or musical properties of language to impose his words over others. Similarly, knowledge too.
Knowledge does not have a basis in man’s natural instincts. It cannot be one of the primary urges of mankind. It is simply the outcome of the interplay, the encounter between instincts. Several instincts war with each other and reach a compromise at the end, which we call knowledge. It expresses a certain state of tension or appeasement between instincts. It is not really a part of human nature. Conflict, combat and the outcome of the combat, which depends a lot on chance, give rise to knowledge. As Nietzsche puts it poetically, Knowledge is like a “spark between two swords” , but not a thing of the metal.
The Nietzschean ideal of knowledge is that it is something that is not even closely connected to the world itself. The character of the world is chaos. Knowledge is order. Physics has come to obey Nietzsche’s decree — entropy always increases. Nature abhors knowledge. It is not natural for nature to be known. Therefore, between our instincts and knowledge, there can be only a relation of domination, struggle, of violence. Knowledge can only be a violation of the things to be known, and not a mere perception, a recognition, an identification with those things. If it is just that, it is not really Knowledge.
Several philosophers have opined that to truly understand things, one needs to “calm one’s passions”, take care not to “laugh at, lament or detest them” (words of Spinoza). Nietzsche states that the converse is true. We understand only because of the struggle between these passions. Laughing, lamenting or detesting are all ways of keeping the object “away” from oneself, differentiating it from our own selves — by protecting oneself from it through laughter, devaluing it through complaint or destroying it through hatred — and not ways of identifying oneself with the object. Consequently, all such drives, which are at the root of knowledge, have a will to destroy, differentiate and place ourselves in a position of hatred, contempt or fear before things that are threatening. Knowledge arises when this war of the passions reaches a truce — as a “spark between the swords” .
At the center of knowledge, Nietzsche places hatred, struggle and power relations. Hence, it is the philosopher, who is most likely to misunderstand knowledge, since he thinks in terms of unity of ideas, congruences and pacification. In order to truly know knowledge, to apprehend it at its root, how it is created, we need only look at our politicians — how relations of power and struggle are created.
Or we might read Noam Chomsky ! (Manufacturing Consent, The Fateful Triangle and innumerable articles)