What the hell is Cursed Knowledge?
It’s kinda funny that I moved from a cult (where we believed in actual cursed knowledge) to teaching classes on memetics (where we document the existence of actual cursed knowlege). In 2020, as a way to keep students focused until the end of the tutorial, I promised or threatened that I would tell anyone who showed up early, and remained to the end cursed knowledge.
I didn’t have a particular paradigm for cursed knowledge. I just used it as a hook for getting students to show around for little uncomfortable truths, facts. It’s funny, there’s this idea that little kids are the ones who love grossout colours and slime and goop and all that kind of stuff, but for some reason my adult students were all on board to hear horrible facts about things in the world they hadn’t thought about or realised, after the fact, that they wished they didn’t know any more.
Incidentally, the drink ‘Fanta’ was created because Coca Cola refused to export to Nazi Germany, and the Nazis created their own soft drink.
This is something that got enough of a reputation that in 2021, when I taught the same class online, armed with techniques and focus from my expertise and practice behind me, there were students expecting Cursed Knowledge. Except I didn’t have any of that prepared, I was focusing on other things in the class, and that got me to think about what I really meant, what it really was, and how it might be applied.
The basic idea, I think of ‘cursed’ in the context of Extremely Online Twitter Speakers is the way that an idea can persist in you and bother you, not necessarily in an anxiety spiral kind of way, but just in an analytical, reflective way, things that we might rather not have known. Things that don’t actually change our behaviours or impede the way we are, but now you know them, you might be reminded of them at times when you’d rather not think about it.
A baby’s teeth are stored in its jaw until they come out, meaning that a baby’s skull is full of hollow chambers, with two layers of teeth resting underneath them. You can find pictures by googling ‘baby skull teeth.’
There is an uneasiness in knowing some things. Our brain is an association engine. Sometimes if we know something and it’s strange and weird, that can mean that we forget it, and it lays under the waves of our mental process most of the time. You know what your earwax and bellybutton tasted like. And then, something that stirs that memory, and suddenly it’s there, and you’re back confronting that unpleasantness. Not painful, not traumatic, just… unpleasant. Like a fart in your ear.
To put it simpler, cursed knowledge, in a useful way, is knowledge that you can’t know for sure you’d rather not know. The only way to know is to learn it; the only way to learn the effect it has on you is to know it. But there’s a recognisable risk in how it works. This isn’t just curses of the vulgar and the body. There’s a mild curse associated with knowing the structure of Gustav Holst’s The Planets, and suddenly you see the underlying structure in every movie score across several genres. Maybe if you can recognise the Four Chords, every pop song sounds more similar, the world seems narrower. And maybe that’s something you’d rather not know, if you had the luxury.
But you didn’t know that you didn’t want to, before you knew it.
Personally, I’m not actually a firm believer in it. But I’ve had a bunch of knowledge that destroyed my world, and I rebuilt through it, more than once. To me, it is not the knowledge that holds the curse: it is in my mind that the knowledge finds a pattern, a curse etched into me, and it is my duty as one who holds knowledge, to find ways to cope with it.
This is not my hypothesis, by the way. It’s just a crystallisation of an idea, I first saw expressed by Whitequark.