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.

20 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.

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