Boehnke, Chiara

Chiara Boehnke

Chiara Boehnke responds to the question: Are some types of knowledge more useful than others?


Object One: The first Breathalyser invented by Professor Robert F. Borkenstein in 1954

(McVean, Ada.)

The first object that I have selected for my exhibition serves as a typical example of knowledge that is deemed as useful straight away due to the way that it can be interpreted easily and follows a clear structure and set of rules to make life-altering decisions.

First invented in 1954 by Professor Robert F. Borkenstein, the breathalyser, formerly known as a “drunkometer”, is a high-tech device that estimates the blood alcohol content, allowing us to gain knowledge of how much alcohol is in the system of an individual, thus enabling decisions to be made, based on this knowledge. One example of a decision that can be made based on the knowledge gained from a breathalyser is deciding whether or not a person should be allowed to perform potentially dangerous actions, like driving a car. As a result of this, we are able to prevent situations in which an individual may be of a potential threat to themselves or others.

This object enriches my exhibition, as knowledge like this can be interpreted at first glance, as well as making decisions about life or death, which is deemed as incredibly useful. Moreover, it proves that easily interpreted knowledge is useful when making moral and rational decisions, which are defined by logic and evidence like statistical data.

This shows that in some cases the factual information we are able to gain from objects, like the breathalyser, are more useful than other kinds of knowledge like emotional knowledge for example, as it is based on facts and figures and is distinct in identifying whether or not an individual is in the right state of mind to complete tasks like driving, hence protecting societies from potential threats and preventing accidents from happening.

Object Two: Cello Notebook, including theory notes and annotations

The second object that I have selected is a notebook that I received from my cello teacher, containing both cello pieces he composed himself, as well as theory notes, relating to the instructions as to how each piece should be played and theintentions behind them.

When viewing the notebook, to someone who does not have any prior knowledge of music, it may be difficult to understand the technical terms, hence the notebook not being of great use to them, however to someone who has musical experience and prior knowledge, the notes and explanations are extremely helpful in playing the pieces and expressing the intentions behind the composition. This therefore gives people with musical knowledge an advantage, as they have access to all the information  in the book (due to their prior musical understanding), meaning they know the full context, whereas an individual lacking prior knowledge may be limited.

This further proves that although knowledge is sometimes deemed as useless, purely because some individuals aren’t able to interpret it straight away or don’t have all the necessary means to understand the information, the fact that knowledge can be difficult to decipher, doesn’t mean that it is less useful than knowledge which can be understood straight away.

Moreover, this means that we shouldn’t abandon the knowledge to seek something ‘more valuable’, as in this case, my teacher’s notes give me context on the theoretical and emotional aspects of the music, enhancing my overall performance. This type of knowledge is only deemed useful to people who are expertise in this field, showing that some knowledge is only useful when having prior knowledge of the matter at hand, rather than being useful to a general population.


Object Three: Guernica, by Picasso which was developed in 1937

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937, oil on canvas, 349 cm × 776 cm. (Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid)

(Zelazko, Alicja)


My final object is the Guernica, an oil painting by Picasso which was developed in 1937. The art piece portrays the bombing of the Guernica during the Spanish civil war in an abstract way and played an essential role in the initiation of the anti-war movement, inspiring millions of people around the world. It has arguably become one of the most powerful indictments against war, making it relevant even today. The piece is an example of both abstract and conceptual knowledge, which can be developed according to an individual’s personal beliefs and opinions, allowing us to interpret knowledge in a personal way.

The Guernica shows that knowledge is most useful and powerful when it is in combination with each other, enabling a broader understanding, making it relevant to my exhibition. Picasso combines both factual knowledge of the horrors of the Spanish Civil war, through abstract art, allowing the viewer to gain emotional knowledge through their individual interpretation of the painting.

Abstract knowledge requires the ability to understand and think about complex concepts, that are not necessarily tied to concrete objects or experiences. It can be developed using our personal opinions, meaning we are able to interpret knowledge in a way that is personal. Through the use of symbols, Picasso invites the viewer to not only reflect on the horrifying effects of the war on all living beings but offers an opportunity to interpret these in a personal way, beyond the information portrayed.

It’s the abstract portrayal of a truly devastating time that fuelled change, proving that even abstract knowledge can be incredibly useful. Abstract art can also allow us to gain emotional knowledge, which can arguably be more useful and powerful than solely using rational cognition, as it focuses on human cognitive processes, including perceptions and attention.

The Guernica displays both the artist’s rich knowledge of his personal past, whilst allowing the viewer to form his own interpretation about the piece and shows that conceptual/factual knowledge can be deemed just as useful as emotional and abstract knowledge and the two must work in combination to be deemed as useful. This is because emotion has a strong influence on the cognitive processes, such as perception and reasoning, therefore showing that for knowledge to be useful, they need to work together.


Works Cited:

McVean, Ada. “Before the Breathalyzer There Was the Drunkometer.” mcgill, Mcgill University, 4 July 2018, nkometer.  Accessed 2 January 2022 

Zelazko, Alicja. “Guernica”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 10 Feb. 2021, Accessed 26 January 2022.