Knowledge is Power: Philosophy from a video game

Finish him,” was the famous phrase heard on Mortal Kombat 3 when it came time to obliterate your opponent. You might remember the drunken wobble Raiden does just before Sub-Zero uppercuts him into oblivion. Good times.

As a kid, another part of the game always stood out: the opening credits. The phrase flashing across the screen read, “There is no knowledge that is not power.”

Who knew a game about martial artists fighting to the death could quote Emerson? Was it propaganda to get us kids to read more? I don’t recall Scorpion showing us his reading list or Shao Kahn having a mini-lecture about leadership and management.

I didn’t even play the game that much, but I have thought about the quote often.

The Past

In our past, humankind had limited access to education and knowledge. You had to be rich or lucky to go to school or have a tutor.

Epictetus took issue with the notion that knowledge was for the privileged few. He also believed that just as knowledge is power, education is a way to freedom.

A student quotes him as saying, “We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free.”  

For centuries, if you wanted to learn something new, you had to visit the local library. It may have been a few counties or countries away, and the books may not be written in your language. And finding a qualified teacher at a reasonable price wasn’t always an option either.

The Present

But with smartphones and the Internet, access to knowledge is unlimited. With the Internet and the proliferation of information immediately at our fingertips, we have endless opportunities to learn.

You can find tutorials on YouTube if you want to know how to drive a stick shift or rebuild the engine in your car. There are multiple how-to articles about the subject if you need to know how to write a thesis paper. Need a few new moves to impress your training partners or guitar licks to impress your girlfriend? Instagram is loaded with them.

The Future

The trick to learning is to ever be the student. Challenge your thoughts and opinions, and seek new information.

You may be familiar with Ygritte’s affectionate phrase, “You know nothing, Jon Snow” from Game of Thrones. To the philosophy student, it sounds like she spent a little time at the feet of Socrates, who went around Athens informing people they essentially knew nothing. He was eventually condemned to death by poison by the elites and aristocrats who thought he was a bad influence on the youth.

Several hundred years after Socrates drank the hemlock, Epictetus took up his mantle. He is quoted as saying, “If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters…”

Whether in a martial arts studio, a library, or a friendly discussion, it is often best if we sit back, remain quiet, and take in the lessons. You never know what nugget of life-changing information you may find, even in something as simple as a video game.

Knowledge is power. Education is freedom. Seek it thoroughly. Use it wisely. Ever be the student.


A version of this article was originally posted on my personal blog,

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments and perspectives.

39 thoughts on “Knowledge is Power: Philosophy from a video game

  1. This is entirely personal and probably does not have meaning for more than 2% of society. The learning of this post is posited to come to an individual by means of third party teaching of that person. I have learned, after 6 decades of so doing, beginning back before I even had any conscious thoughts registering in my brain, that my “instinct” learned without my generation of thought. Certainly, when we first come out of the womb our entire body, not just our brain, takes in information and reacts in some manner. Learning occurs without the aid of a teacher directly.
    Anyway, had to share how some of those not “privileged” learn without books and teachers over the many centuries of human existence. It still applies, but only to a small number of people who were never convinced not to trust their instinct. (But, you have to have an instinct that measures each step and adjusts accordingly, including when to ignore those who would deny the learning you are experiencing.)
    Now, here is the sinister thought from this: learning has always been manipulated in some respects and I wonder how much learning by game playing is “perverting” the ethos of those who play.

    1. I’m not entirely sure I understand your message, but if you are say that we can learn without a teacher, I agree completely. If you are saying that learning from games is a perversion of real learning, I would agree to that to some extent. I argue that gamificaiton as a learning tool is ineffective at best and manipulative at worst (cognitive load theory explains why). I mentioned in the post that I didn’t really play the game although I watched my brother do so. My point is that knowledge, whether it comes from reading a book, watching others, listening to a lecture or podast, etc., is something that can be both liberating and powerful. If I missed your point, please let me know. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you. Ever be the student is my philosophy. Although, in jest, I don’t know if your idea of hungry is the same as the cliche, “starving college student,” which I hear at my institution all the time.

  2. Learning CAN be ongoing, if one is open to learning! Some become so set in their ways, comfortable with having learned and graduated from school, that not much further learning is done, unless they are told to by an authority, often a church leader. Other people see opportunities to learn as plentiful as the air they breathe. Being open or not is crucial!

    1. I agree. Corey Anton wrote that education is what you give, not what you get. In that regard, if a person is comfortable with what they have, they may not be as willing to give. We must be open to learning and the effort it takes.

  3. Excellent article, thank you. I recently listened to a radio show about the state of education in Canada and the USA, it’s not good….but the thing that really struck me during the show was the notion of Anchoring Bias, believing the first thing you see, hear, or read and then making decisions and plans based on that first thing without being open to other opinions or facts. Being open and ‘ever the student’ as you say, is the key to true learning and to being able to understand why and how you then make decisions about what to believe and what your next steps are.

    1. I agree 100%. The North American education system is largely broken, in my opinion. Anchoring bias, confirmation bias, and several others are prominent. Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts with me.

  4. You could say we are at a cross roads in humanity at a point where we have nearly unbounded knowledge at our finger tips, yet there are still many individuals who actively avoid it. As much as knowledge is power to those we possess it, it can also create fear in those who don’t understand it.

    1. I agree with you that knowledge is a fearful thing to those who are ignorant of it. I live in a small rural area where myth and superstition are still prevalent. They aren’t hunting witches, but they are quick to put labels on you if you have even the slightest difference in beliefs.

      1. If you want to try, ask “them” a question and let it lay with them. I can’t tell you “the” question, but if you have an honest one that is not passive aggressive, merely a good question, as it sits in their head, they will begin to answer it in some way. if they articulate some thing latter, you may recognize a new question they left unaddressed. Sure, it is a long shot, but you may help them find a different path to walk. sorry, couldn’t stop my thought.

      2. They sound much more terrifying than any witch I could imagine. Complacency in ignorance to me is like the cockroaches shell. Impenetrable even by nuclear radiation!

    2. Clearly, though, the limits of knowledge is highly dependent upon the receptor of any knowledge, then the application of that knowledge to an honest path such that the knowledge continues to accrue in every instance.

      1. The one thing I can say about knowledge is that it’s begets more of the same! One question will always create 10 more once it’s answered.

  5. I see around me all the time the effect that having an education versus not having one has on many areas of life. It depends of course on the quality of the education… but for instance many uneducated people I know can’t think critically or outside the square. They don’t have the content based building blocks to analyse the bigger picture or the mental agility. They’re good at what they do and they’re great people but they don’t have good higher thinking skills. Also, they’re comparatively poor. So I’m a big believer in the equalising power of education. It’s the rulers of society who say, oh, you can do without it, you don’t want to be an egghead. Thus do they control us while sending their own kids to grammar school.

  6. Had to lay this thought out there. “Education” is undefined here. I have worked in a number of situations in which people went there straight out of high school. In that environment I worked with people who were smart enough to have gone to college, but did not either have that opportunity or chose not to for money reasons. I suggest that it is not education that is the separator because some people can learn in every moment. Those are the people who can discern things as they happen and I would take them over people educated in worlds that don’t have relevance in the circumstances presented at the time. People who rely strictly upon education know only what they have learned by being taught, and you can’t teach certain things except in the moment.

    1. I agree with you and thanks for adding the clarification. One of my main influences in education, Neil Postman, once wrote, “education is not the same thing as schooling, and…, in fact, not much of our
      education takes place in school.”

  7. I was discussing the other day with a colleague about this new tech called OpenAI. I am a teacher, and this software is terrifying (for me). It allows a student to type a prompt (math, English, social studies, etc.) and the software will CREATE responses from references online. It is NOT copying, it is taking knowledge and applying it. The student can then copy and paste this and show it as their own work. Do you think that this is actually an instance of knowledge (the ability to create such enabling technology) that can actually make us powerless, make us think less, make us achieve less by being reliant on other things? Curious on your take! Sorry for long comment.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful response. I am a media ecologist. Media, in our perspective, is any technique or technology that extends human capabilities and nervous systems. With that is also the reality that as a medium extends, it also obsolesces and amputates. For instance, while writing gave humans the ability to transmit messages to future generations (time-binding), it also hampered their ability to memorize. This is the contrast between orality and literacy, oral culture and literate culture. For a short explanation, see Plato’s dialogue where Socrates explains the interplay between King Thamus and the god Theuth. To your particular question, I believe that deferring to (perhaps acquiescing to is a better term) AI and modern technologies amputates our abilities to do intellectual work, much like a calculator relieves us of the struggle of pen/paper or mental computation. The human condition has nearly always been plagued by the path of least resistance (efficiency). But that drive is in many ways counterintuitive to human longevity and finding meaning in the struggle. Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death is a great example of what I mean. Viktor Frankl’s quote, “When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure,” is also a great way to put it. We find meaning amid our struggles, not in our pleasures. With AI-written papers, there’s no struggle, therefore no meaning. In my doctoral program, they always emphasize “Write to Learn.” When we remove that purpose from the activity, then the entire process becomes trivial. No learning occurs, leading to a weakening of mental capacity and engagement, a dumbing down, if you will. These are few of my thoughts on the matter. Thanks for inspiring me. I may turn this into a post.

      1. Thanks so much for responding! What a well said statement. I often tell my students — and myself — the only good writing is re-writing, which is a mantra in social studies and in fiction writing, but I fear that dumbing down of the human capacity, much like you said! thank you again for your thoughts.

  8. You introduced a couple of thoughts to my cognizant self, Stay with me if you like.
    What if there is the typical unit of 10% who learn intuitively at a high level. Those people will not loose the understanding of AI, just as they have learned not to give into all other evolutionary changes that result from similar, but different steps that changed our posture, speed, etc. For lack of other classification I am speaking of what could be labelled the Nerd Jock.
    Sure, this one is largely mental only, but it ties into physical aspects that have occurred. It only makes sense that the learning curve, in turning exponential, would see a separation of type of intellect, at least, with other mental aspects following. Just look at cars and what they do without being actually asked to by you. I turn off all assistance as I start my car, since I pay attention better than does it. Any writing I do to learn has disappeared a long time ago. I hate to read now, but I love to soak in stuff and your message was just long enough. Thanks

  9. I agree with the sentiment that knowledge is power. The more we learn and understand about the world around us, the more equipped we are to make informed decisions and to navigate the challenges that life throws our way. Your words serve as a reminder to always strive for growth and to embrace the power of learning

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. Ever be the student. I like how you phrased it: “embrace the power of learning.”

  10. Knowledge, by itself, is not power, but does serve as one of the keys that will open a door to the room of ;power. Power can be exercised a number of ways, and leading is one way. Leading, though, is more than just knowledge, to include the exercise thereof with a list of variables applied.

    1. For me, personally, the key to learning is always paying attention. I have and engineering degree and a JD and I didn’t study much, but I paid attention, especially in law school, and that was enough, for ME, to learn the dance that allowed me to practice the profession pretty well. Not only that, I was the college boy foreman for two 250 ton steel furnaces and the guys on the furnace allowed me to learn about them, and about myself.

  11. I loved mortal combat when I was a teen. I love that you say that knowledge is power, I always add that ignorance is bliss /S Thank you for this article, it’s well-written and well thought out.

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