Especially early on in life, knowledge is often regarded as the most respected and desired attribute. Both parents and schools, two key influencers, prioritize knowledge. Those who have the quality are well known and are sought out in reference to both career and relationship. As anyone who has played a table-top role playing game knows though, knowledge and wisdom are two very different attributes. I note this because while it is important to have information, it is much more crucial to know how to utilize that information in an appropriate effective way.
Science, the results of knowledge, is often seen as pure and undeniable fact. Much of the time, it absolutely should be considered as such. After all, if results are thrown out, then there is no basis for what we can trust. If we refuse to use a measurement because we disagree with the results, then we simultaneously throw out the method we used to reach the result. In doing so, we throw out all other results we received with that same measurement. If we disagree with our weight or height based on a belief that the scale fluctuates too much, then we simultaneously disagree with a system that produces life saving devices, vehicles that travel to space and skyscrapers that have been standing for decades.
From a psychological perspective the same logical fallacy can be true. How can we believe that the ‘blue’ we see is the same as the ‘blue’ that our spouse sees? How can we truly prove that any other human has thoughts and consciousness as we do (are they reacting as a program would)? Most of us move through each day assuming that our thoughts and experiences are not all that exist in the world and that the people around us have similar thoughts and experiences, even if we can’t see or understand what those might be. At some point, we must step off the ledge of knowledge and move to faith.
In popular culture, faith and knowledge (specifically, it’s extension: science) are seen as antonyms. It’s interesting when viewing history then, to see that faith based groups, specifically churches, led the forefront of research for centuries. At one point, the religious were the only subset of people that believed the Earth had a beginning and would have an end, far earlier than when the Big Bang was theorized. Knowledge has had the chance to allow humanity a measuring stick for its achievements. With metrics, we are able to glance back prior to industry and agriculture to see how far we’ve come. Too often though, this is used a law rather than suggestion. Knowledge, very quickly, becomes a crutch.
As has been stated, knowledge is not synonymous with wisdom. It is easiest to see the distinction in relationships, specifically with men. A man that assumes he has more knowledge than those around him also assumes a mantle of pride. Placing a strong belief in that knowledge, we often make fools of ourselves. We take the wrong routes, or construct furniture incorrectly, all because we assumed that we had the correct information. This permeates throughout our lives, with an assumption that we already have the answers to not only the questions posed about our lives, but also others’ lives. The more knowledge we believe we have, the more likely we are to judge, often unfairly.
Knowledge is by no means bad, but without wisdom and an understanding of what knowledge a person lacks, that person falls into the same traps that a fool does. It has been said that it is better to have a puddle of words and a lake of thought rather than the opposite, and it is certainly better to admit to a lack of understanding rather than to attempt to answer a question we have barely begun to consider. A fool knows no better, while a knowledgeable man simply believes that he does.
Wisdom always trumps knowledge, and a wise man knows when it is best to defer judgement, on a person or an issue. A wise man asks himself why he believes what he does and then searches for answers. Through wisdom, knowledge can be gained and then utilized appropriately and effectively. A wise man continues to ask ‘why’, whether it’s in reference to a simple question during the day or a foundational belief. This leads to doubt at times, but doubt can be answered. It is only wrong to leave that doubt hanging in the air when you have a chance to discover the solution that’s needed.
Often, we find ourselves fearful of asking ‘why’. We take a step away from that ledge, too afraid to peer down and find ourselves in unexpected territory. Asking ‘why’ though, is the wisest response one could have. Two outcomes are possible when we question our own thoughts and values. First, we discover we are correct. If this is the case, then we will have likely discovered an even better argument for our opinions that can be utilized when we are shaken. Second, we could discover we are wrong. Many of us find fear in this second possibility, but if we are truly incorrect in our understanding of the world around us, then isn’t it better to know sooner, rather than later?
Knowledge and faith are not opposed to one another, and we all must have faith in our beliefs, including scientific standards. We have faith that our senses are not failing us and that the world around us exists. We have faith that the world will continue as a constant, not disappearing one moment and reappearing the next. We must be prepared for any possibility though, and knowledge allows us to do just that, but it can’t act as an island. Knowledge is not worthwhile or helpful without wisdom and faith, and wisdom and faith grow that much stronger with knowledge. As curious creatures, we crave these things, but it’s where we direct that craving that creates who we are and how we perceive the world around us.
Values, A Series: