Few People Care about Knowledge for its own Sake

Library from Unsplash CC0 Public Domain

Few are the peo­ple who care about knowl­edge for it’s own sake” Dan­ny Iny from Teach and Grow Rich.

When I read I often encounter state­ments that make me think. It is one of the many rea­sons I read. Many I add to my note­book, but few go fur­ther than the orig­i­nal thought por­trayed by some­one. This one made me think for a while, then I start­ed to col­lect some thoughts because I do care about knowl­edge for its own sake. For exam­ple this makes me think about Plato’s Repub­lic — a book writ­ten giv­ing an ide­al­is­tic view held by Socrates about how a pure soci­ety could develop.

 

Idealistic… Knowledge…

Yet in a way this thought has many prongs. I remem­ber a com­ment, made by some­one back in the 1970s or per­haps ear­ly 80s, how too many uni­ver­si­ty cours­es taught imprac­ti­cal cur­ric­u­la, i.e. stu­dents grad­u­at­ed hav­ing lit­tle knowl­edge that they could take into the work­place. Sim­i­lar peo­ple are today decry­ing that stu­dents have almost no the­o­ret­i­cal knowl­edge and can­not apply inde­pen­dent thought to solve any prob­lem. The com­plaint being that cours­es are now only focused on train­ing for a career in busi­ness. A fin­er bal­ance is clear­ly required.

Knowledge Pen idea bulb paper from Tookapic CC0 public domainThe pur­pose of this post is to look at how we use knowl­edge, not from the aca­d­e­m­ic view, but how we may per­son­al­ly devel­op a process of con­tin­u­al learn­ing in our lives. Col­lect­ing knowl­edge for the sake of knowl­edge can pro­vide a per­son­al foun­da­tion to help us at times when a bit of wis­dom is need­ed.

The abil­i­ty to think is of vital impor­tance. Think­ing allows us to under­stand the val­ue of cer­tain hypothe­ses. Know what options are avail­able at each stage. Then pos­tu­late on pos­si­ble and like­ly out­comes, the way Socrates did for his the­o­ries of pos­si­ble soci­etal devel­op­ment. The val­ue of busi­ness is unde­ni­able, but it is not the only thing act­ing on a human life. Our soci­ety has oth­er needs, it has infra­struc­ture as a frame­work for every­thing else that is possible.

Look­ing at the changes in the way peo­ple think over the past thir­ty to forty years it is pos­si­ble to see that few peo­ple have learned to ques­tion or chal­lenge the wrong. Too many peo­ple who act like sheep, being dragged along by what­ev­er supe­ri­or force is avail­able. We need to teach peo­ple how to think. That think­ing will, of course, start at school age but needs encour­ag­ing through­out a person’s life. To my mind this is how Trump won the US Pres­i­den­cy, sup­port­ing the dis­en­fran­chised, non-thinkers, who fol­low what­ev­er hope they can latch onto.

 

Question and Contribute?

All peo­ple need a plan to think, ques­tion, and con­tribute to human knowl­edge through their lives.

Too many sim­ply march in tune to who­ev­er orders them. Orders may seem log­i­cal, the rea­son peo­ple fol­low them. Orders need not be direct (such as, a boss telling his employ­ee to do some­thing). They are often implied. What is for­got­ten is that there are many dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. That which is log­i­cal and sane to one mind is irra­tional mad­ness to anoth­er. Many com­mands are any­thing but logical.

Question from Pexels CC0 Public domainTrou­ble is, few ques­tion any­thing and even less con­tribute. In part it could be said that this hap­pens because of a lack of knowl­edge. but many of these peo­ple are high­ly edu­cat­ed, so should know dif­fer­ent. In busi­ness sit­u­a­tions it is pos­si­ble to say that peo­ple react in a cer­tain way because they are afraid to lose their job. There is much truth here. Yet for much of the past decade job loss has been par for the course, most peo­ple have expe­ri­enced being let go because of the finan­cial sit­u­a­tion the busi­ness finds itself in. The eco­nom­ics should there­fore seem to negate fear of job loss.

The oth­er aspect at play here is many peo­ple lack a the­o­ret­i­cal under­stand­ing of the sit­u­a­tion around them and there­fore look to oth­ers whom they believe to know more. Trou­ble is, we all too often see the blind lead­ing the blind.

 

Theory

A bit of the­o­ry nev­er hurt any­one. Over the years I have read many weird and won­der­ful the­o­ries. Most deserve lit­tle atten­tion, some of these are pure works of fic­tion. But had I not read them I would not have been able to make up my own mind about them. A cru­cial abil­i­ty, that of com­ing to an under­stand­ing a deter­min­ing how to think.

Should we learn knowl­edge for its own sake? In Mein Kampf Hitler’s main the­sis was that there was a Jew­ish con­spir­a­cy to gain world lead­er­ship. It seems today that some polit­i­cal lead­ers have a view that there is an Islāmic con­spir­a­cy to gain world lead­er­ship? It seems easy to blame oth­ers for the prob­lems that exist.

Are there par­al­lels? Clear­ly there are. A lit­tle knowl­edge allows peo­ple to make com­par­isons. This piece is not intend­ed to start a polit­i­cal debate, mere­ly find some par­al­lels in think­ing between two eras and trig­ger the process of think­ing. What can you do if nobody wants to lis­ten? That is a tough question.

Machu Picchu from Pexels

Civilised?

If human­i­ty is as a whole to become civilised then there are moun­tains to climb and knowl­edge for its own sake is some­thing we have to accept and embody. Any untried idea remains sim­ply a the­o­ry, an option, some­thing that could be tried. Some sim­ply need will to make them hap­pen. Peo­ple need to gen­er­ate more ideas, more the­o­ries than ever before in every human endeav­our. The exam­ple I used above was well-known and polit­i­cal, but there is need for new the­o­rems in every branch of thought. Fur­ther­more where there are the­o­ries, dis­cus­sion of ideas is essen­tial and all ideas are chal­lenge­able.

Of course there will always be the­o­ries or ideas that should exist only in the realm of pure fic­tion. There are also many fic­tion­al sto­ries that have a strong mes­sage or ide­al that needs trans­lat­ing into the real world.

Should we care about knowl­edge? We can be cer­tain that the path to under­stand­ing goes through knowl­edge. Clear­ly sci­ence is also one part of dis­cov­er­ing the bound­aries of knowl­edge. There are how­ev­er many more realms and direc­tions of knowl­edge. Explo­ration, tech­nol­o­gy, med­i­cine, have all brought new knowl­edge. Writ­ing is one of these areas. Writ­ers must explore strange new worlds, bring­ing phi­los­o­phy, psy­chol­o­gy, and oth­er ‘olo­gies and ideas to light.

 

Access to Information

Wise Own CC0 Public Domain image from PexelsThe Knowl­edge Man­age­ment Insti­tute makes the point “as far as infor­ma­tion goes, we’ve got a lot of it. In fact, we have access to more infor­ma­tion than any oth­er time in our his­to­ry, and expo­nen­tial­ly so”. It could be said that we are drown­ing in infor­ma­tion, but infor­ma­tion is not knowl­edge. Knowl­edge implies we know what to do with the infor­ma­tion at our fingertips.

Do you care about wis­dom? You should. Trou­ble is there are very few that will lis­ten to those hav­ing wis­dom today. There are too many blind, unknow­ing, unthink­ing, peo­ple com­mand­ing the atten­tion of the world. Sad­ly they have a mass fol­low­ing who are also blind. Ask one of the fol­low­ers what they expect to achieve and they are inca­pable of say­ing. Some­times it seems all the good we have achieved over the years is being aban­doned and no-one will lis­ten to wisdom.

We live in a world where we have mas­sive access to infor­ma­tion, yet few know how to use it. What is also true is those with wis­dom no longer com­mand any atten­tion. I am not say­ing that we must all become devo­tees of the Dalai Lama overnight. The point is becom­ing devo­tees of some­one else is a part of the prob­lem. Too many peo­ple rely on oth­ers to light the path for them, when they need to light the path them­selves. Please don’t take my words to the oth­er extent and imply that we should not care about the words of lead­ers and thinkers like the Dalai Lama. The point here is that every per­son has the capac­i­ty to think for them­selves, espe­cial­ly if they con­stant­ly increase their knowl­edge. They should be able to iden­ti­fy solutions.

Even the Amer­i­can Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty & Qual­i­ty Cen­ter has asked the ques­tion “How Wise Are Your Lead­ers?” Car­la O’Dell in talk­ing about the char­ac­ter­is­tics of wise lead­ers states “They don’t sac­ri­fice our col­lec­tive future for their cur­rent gain”. I agree, wis­dom requires a more holis­tic view to be tak­en. Wis­dom is built from data, infor­ma­tion, knowl­edge, and a whole lot more besides. Fur­ther Iku­jiro Non­a­ka and­Hi­ro­ta­ka Takeuchi in Har­vard Busi­ness Review state: “in an era when dis­con­ti­nu­ity is the only con­stant, the abil­i­ty to lead wise­ly has near­ly van­ished”.

 

What can People Gain?

In this era, we should not rely on read­ing to gain knowl­edge, even the (almost) illit­er­ate can build knowl­edge through TED, YouTube, the TV doc­u­men­tary, and oth­er sources. It is how you use that knowl­edge that mat­ters the most.

John Hen­ry New­man believed “knowl­edge is capa­ble of being its own end” and “the pur­suit of knowl­edge promise(s) noth­ing beyond knowl­edge itself”. In oth­er words build­ing knowl­edge does not nec­es­sar­i­ly lead to wis­dom. There are many for whom the only goal of knowl­edge it to prove they have it, as if they are tak­ing part in quiz night at the local bar, or per­haps becom­ing a con­tes­tant on Jeop­ardy. I wish such peo­ple good luck, but I have a belief that knowl­edge has a much deep­er meaning.

What you learn today may have no rel­e­vance tomor­row or the day after, but even­tu­al­ly it will show itself in some­thing you do.

Read on the beach by makunin CC0 Public Domain from PixabayIt seem there are two chal­lenges to knowl­edge. First access to infor­ma­tion and sec­ond how to assim­i­late and use that information.

Uni­ver­si­ties and great libraries, seen as cen­tres of knowl­edge, are broad­ly inac­ces­si­ble, unless you are an aca­d­e­m­ic. The Inter­net pro­vides too much infor­ma­tion, most of it irrel­e­vant to the per­son hav­ing a seri­ous quest for knowl­edge. Project Guten­berg and oth­ers like it. are mak­ing old books avail­able, but there are still many obsta­cles in access­ing cer­tain mate­ri­als. Some pub­lish­ers inter­cede claim­ing their rights are being infringed. The path to using and assim­i­lat­ing knowl­edge relies on the need to ques­tion and chal­lenge the sta­tus quo first and foremost.

I care about knowl­edge for it’s own sake, but I also care that it has applic­a­bil­i­ty in some aspect of our lives.

 

Related Work

Oth­er mate­r­i­al recent­ly pub­lished on the sub­ject of knowl­edge include:

 

 

 

Buy Peter B. Giblett a cof­fee to thank him for con­sid­er­ing the sub­ject of knowl­edge in the world today. The images includ­ed here are from roy­al­ty free pub­lic domain sites, like Unsplash, Pix­abay and others.

 

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