“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” – T. S. Eliot.
Knowledge and wisdom might sound like synonyms since both refer to the mind and an accumulation of thoughts and experiences, but there are real differences in the actual application in our life.
There are different types of knowledge categorized in different manner by various people. We can have, for example, systemic knowledge, needed in order to get the square root of a given number. Semantic knowledge is another kind, that allows us to grasp the meaning of words. There is knowledge that comes through our senses, which is based on observation is known as empirical knowledge.
Knowledge can be deduced from some premises; it can be explicit or implicit. Its subject can be our inner self or the world around us. It can be a technique or even a fact, it can be distinct or diffuse and even noble or vile among many other ways. It could also be that knowledge is derived from ideas, as Plato postulated; or drawn for experience, as David Hume did.
We can say that knowledge is some sort of awareness or an identification principle that gives us an account of what a thing is and its features. It is the material comprising the fabric of our understanding with which we wrap the world we inhabit. And it does not stop there! Because our understanding creates relationships between known things, our knowledge gets combined through the use of reason. All known things become an active part of our world view.
They get integrated into an interdependent network of approved facts that sustain our world. These beliefs are interconnected, forming our single and coherent view of what there is. It is, to put it in Quine’s words, The Web of Belief. Once a belief has been incorporated, it becomes a node that enriches further exploration on a similar subject. The integration of new insights happen while reviewing the useful things from previous ones.
With a system of beliefs that gets more complex as time goes on, it provides a richer database that serves as a pool giving us more solutions to problems. Data can also be combined with itself to produce more refined data where more shades can be differentiated. Building on top of each other, humanity has been accumulating and multiplying information. As Newton said: nanos gigantum humeris insidentes: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulder of giants”.
Despite the expansion of our “data-base”, a continuous critical observation of our thinking process is crucial. Without reflection on the purpose of our thirst for knowledge, the danger of getting lost in the sea of information is significant.
Currently, the predominant educational systems orbit around methods that are mainly engaged on the slow process of linear integration of data and skills required to function in our capitalistic world. With little room for self-expression or personal growth, we turn the mind of the next generations into minds that compute… and there is so much more to what the mind can and should do besides computing e.g. feeling empathy or introspection.
With such a strong emphasis on this kind of education as a requirement for success in our current times, the division of the fields of research covers smaller fields by the day. Because of this, I think it is important to draw attention towards two very distinct kinds of knowledge.
The first one is erudition; characterized by the accumulation of information, it can be pictured as a large database, like a historian who has good memory and can recall the dates of many events. The second type of knowledge that I think is important to bring about, is wisdom. There are many ways in which this word is understood, I wish to specify mine.
Wisdom is a special kind of knowledge because its effect is the uplifting of our life and of those around us to a higher and better way of being. Opposed to erudition, wisdom is not characterized by having a bigger brain, but a bigger heart. Wisdom is knowledge that is well aligned with its present circumstances, so the outcome is that of well-being. Transforming our sensible intentions and considerations into factual happiness, wisdom has the capacity to un-crook the crooked ways and shine light where there is none.
It is, therefore, I believe of utmost importance to direct ourselves towards the attainment of wisdom before erudition because well being should come before anything else. It is true that technological innovation can lead to the improvement of tools that could benefit us, but remember, that without having a guiding principle that contains some degree of altruism, peace and joy is not possible.
Technology is a tool, and the way we use those tools makes them what they are. It is the spirit of the usage and direction that we inject in the tools, with our intentions. Emmanuel Kant famously wrote: “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” Similarly, knowledge without wisdom is hollow while wisdom without knowledge is difficult. Wisdom is always in touch with reality, and when it does, it yields many fruits, such as: happiness, pain alleviation, peace and many more.
The difficult thing is that wisdom can be a somewhat tricky thing to catch. It is not as straight forward as learning ABC. It can sometimes be obtained through going deep into consideration and spending a lot of time on pondering over a subject. Wisdom can be the recognition of our inner voice that urges us to do a specific action. It can be intuitive or a matter of wits, thoughtful or sudden. In all cases, the quest for wisdom requires total commitment and purity of soul. Let us keep our eyes wide open and a crystalline intention. Let us seek the light.