Knowledge can be associated with weight, heaviness, obligation, cynicism. Depending on one’s attitude, it can be seen as opposed to more “innocent” qualities such as beauty and play in many cases.
The more we know of our own history, and the more honestly we face it, the more gloomy we might become about the prospects for our future. This is true for individuals and for societies. Truly facing up to our past mistakes might erase all of our faith in a positive future. Thus a negative, passive kind of nihilism is born. On the basis of this, Nietzsche discusses, in “on the use and abuse of history for life”, and in other places, how ignorance actually preserves life and health in many cases. Truth can be a poison. The courage to leap ahead in defiance of the past, trying anew, which is essential for life, can be associated with stupidity as well as with heroism.
The connection between knowledge and guilt/heaviness goes even further back: in the bible, the fall of man in the garden of Eden is associated with the acquisition of knowledge and the shedding of ignorance.
Against this gloomy view Nietzsche later begins to formulate the ideal of “the gay science”, joyful knowing or “wild wisdom”. In Zarathustra he writes:
Three transformations of the spirit I name for you: how the spirit becomes a camel, and the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.
The meaning of these transformations is mysterious and subject to much interpretation. But it is usually understood that becoming a “camel” involves taking on a heavy load – the burden of knowledge, the burden of history and wisdom. The lion involves attaining the power to create new values. Finally, the child is a regained innocence.
Innocence with knowledge, play with science, beauty with honesty. Is this not one of the most difficult and profound, and also most worthy, formulas to strive for?