KNOWLEDGE: Knowledge And Wisdom
What is the relationship between knowledge and wisdom?
One way to look at the knowledge explosion and the future of humanity is to compare two streams of data in the human experience. For simplicity sake, let's call them knowledge and wisdom, and take a look at three ways that they differ.
Science is our most effective method of developing new knowledge about the world, and it works in ways which give it some distinct advantages over how human wisdom operates.
First, knowledge development feeds back upon itself, resulting in the accelerating development of more knowledge. So for example, once we obtain the knowledge of how to construct the printing press, and computers, and the Internet, each of these tools help us work together more cooperatively to develop even more knowledge. Learning one thing often helps us learn other things faster.
Second, whatever knowledge we obtain can be efficiently passed down to our descendants. This means that every generation doesn't have to start from scratch in developing knowledge, but can instead pick up where the last generation left off and build further from there.
Third, knowledge development often brings us tangible useful objects like a smart phone which we can understand and hold in our hand. A near endless collection of such useful devices has entered our lives over the last century, so generally speaking we respect knowledge development and devote considerable resources to it.
Wisdom is arguably even more important than knowledge, because it is what we hope is wisdom that tells us what knowledge to seek, and what to do with it once we have it. But wisdom works differently than knowledge, and in a manner which tends to put it at a disadvantage.
First, wisdom doesn't feed back upon itself like the way knowledge works. Having a certain degree of wisdom doesn't necessarily lead to more wisdom. Wisdom can even defeat itself, such as when a wise person becomes arrogant, or uses their wisdom to do things that aren't wise.
Second, while we can try to pass wisdom down to our descendants this is my no means a reliable transaction. If we teach our children well that certainly helps, but doing so is no guarantee of any outcome. We can try writing wisdom down in books and passing the books down to the next generation. While this is worth trying and is better than nothing, there is again no guarantee a reader will become wise by reading.
The dirty little secret about wisdom is that it's typically the kind of thing each person has to find for themselves through a process of trial and error. One person can't make another person wise in the same way that one person can hand another some knowledge. Wisdom often takes a lifetime to develop, and by time the time we get there, it's time to go.
Third, it's hard to nail down exactly what we will obtain by being wise. A wise person might, for example, enjoy a great marriage. But, what is a great marriage exactly? Opinions differ, and what works for one couple doesn't work for the next.
And so because wisdom typically doesn't deliver easily identifiable tangible benefits that are easy to understand, we often don't value wisdom very much, nor put that much effort in to finding it.
The Relationship Between Knowledge And Wisdom
What we've seen above is that while knowledge tends to build at an ever accelerating rate, our wisdom inches along trying to keep up.
And so what happens is that a gap between the powers available to us, and our ability to make sound judgments about how to use that power, steadily widens.
If we could chart knowledge vs. wisdom on a graph we'd see the line representing knowledge going up at an ever steeper rate, while the line representing wisdom would be only gradually trending upward along the bottom of the graph. That is, the two lines would diverge, and the distance between them would grow faster over time.
The Modern World
This is what is in effect happening in the modern world. We are gaining knowledge and thus power at an ever accelerating rate, while our wisdom and judgment about how to use this power grows very gradually, if at all.
We are as a species, if you will, ever more like a group of 12 year old boys who just got access to the keys to the car, a loaded handgun, and a case of Jack Daniels whiskey.
I mean, you know, what could possibly go wrong??
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