“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.
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.
The 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.
Trouble 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.
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.
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
The 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.
It 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.
Other material recently published on the subject of knowledge include:
- Writing: Largely About having the Confidence to Do It!
- Will you Unlock Your Potential as a Blog Writer?
- Web Explored: Writing with Scissors and other Great Pieces
- Everyday Readers: One Goal of the Blog Writer
- Writing on Different Topics in Different Places
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.