Knowledge

Acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles from study.

— Knowledge, 19

Knowl·edge
acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition: knowledge of many things.
familiarity or conversance, as with a particular subject or branch of learning: A knowledge of accounting was necessary for the job.
acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report: a knowledge of human nature.

Origin:1250–1300; Middle English knouleche, equivalent to know ( en ) to know1 + -leche, perhaps akin to Old English -lāc suffix denoting action or practice, cognate with Old Norse (-) leikr.

To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Knowledge is a collection of facts, information, and/or skills acquired through experience or education or (more generally) the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); and it can be more or less formal or systematic. In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called epistemology, and the philosopher Plato famously defined knowledge as “justified true belief.” There is however no single agreed upon definition of knowledge, and there are numerous theories to explain it.

When a man’s knowledge is sufficient to attain, and his virtue is not sufficient to enable him to hold, whatever he may have gained, he will lose again.Confucius
Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.Sandra Carey

Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, learning, communication, association and reasoning; while knowledge is also said to be related to the capacity of acknowledgment in human beings. In the field of organizational knowledge management, the term is used to mean “the confident understanding of a subject with the ability to use it for a specific purpose if appropriate.”

Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.Plato

The definition of knowledge is a matter of on-going debate among philosophers in the field of epistemology. The classical definition, described but not ultimately endorsed by Plato, specifies that a statement must meet three criteria in order to be considered knowledge: it must be justified, true, and believed.

Some methods of generating knowledge, such as trial and error, or learning from experience, tend to create highly situational knowledge. One of the main benefits of the scientific method is that the theories it generates are much less situational than knowledge gained by other methods. Situational knowledge is often embedded in language, culture, or traditions.

Knowledge generated through experience is called knowledge “a posteriori”, meaning afterwards. The pure existence of a term like “a posteriori” means this also has a counterpart. In this case that is knowledge “a priori”, meaning before. The knowledge prior to any experience means that there are certain “assumptions” that one takes for granted. For example if you are being told about a chair it is clear to you that the chair is in space, that it is 3D. This knowledge is not knowledge that one can “forget”, even someone suffering from amnesia experiences the world in 3D.

Consider your origin; you were not born to live like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge.Dante Alighieri

One discipline of epistemology focuses on partial knowledge. In most realistic cases, it is not possible to have an exhaustive understanding of an information domain, so then we have to live with the fact that our knowledge is always not complete, that is, partial. Most real problems have to be solved by taking advantage of a partial understanding of the problem context and problem data. That is very different from the typical simple math problems one might solve at school, where all data is given and one has a perfect understanding of formulas necessary to solve them.

When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it – this is knowledge.Confucius

Scientific knowledge: The development of the scientific method has made a significant contribution to our understanding of knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. The scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. Science, and the nature of scientific knowledge have also become the subject of Philosophy. As science itself has developed, knowledge has developed a broader usage which has been developing within biology/psychology—discussed elsewhere as meta-epistemology, or genetic epistemology, and to some extent related to “theory of cognitive development”.

Religious meaning of knowledge: In many expressions of Christianity, such as Catholicism and Anglicanism, knowledge is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament’s tree of the knowledge of good and evil contained the knowledge that separated Man from God: “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil…” (Genesis 3:22)

In Gnosticism divine knowledge or gnosis is hoped to be attained and escape from the demiurge’s physical world. And in Thelema knowledge and conversation with one’s Holy Guardian Angel is the purpose of life, which is similar to Gnosis or enlightenment in other mystery religions.

Hindu Scriptures present two kinds of knowledge, Paroksha Gnyana and Prataksha Gnyana. Paroksha Gnyana (also spelled Paroksha-Jnana) is secondhand knowledge: knowledge obtained from books, hearsay, etc. Prataksha Gnyana (also spelled Prataksha-Jnana) is the knowledge borne of direct experience, i.e., knowledge that one discovers for oneself.

In Islam, knowledge (Arabic: علم, ʿilm) is given great significance. “The Knowing” (al-ʿAlīm) is one of the 99 names reflecting distinct attributes of God. The Qur’an asserts that knowledge comes from God (2:239) and various hadith encourage the acquisition of knowledge. Muhammad is reported to have said “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave” and “Verily the men of knowledge are the inheritors of the prophets”. Islamic scholars, theologians and jurists are often given the title alim, meaning “knowledgable”.

In Jewish tradition, knowledge (Hebrew: דעת da’ath) is considered one of the most valuable traits a person can acquire. Observant Jews recite three times a day in the Amidah “Favor us with knowledge, understanding and discretion that come from you. Exalted are you, Existent-One, the gracious giver of knowledge.” The Tanakh states, “A wise man gains power, and a man of knowledge maintains power”, and “knowledge is chosen above gold”.

The Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom

By George Weigel

April 25th, 2003 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the most important scientific article of the twentieth century: James Watson and Francis Crick’s description in Nature of the “double-helix” structure of DNA. Far more than Einstein’s articles on the theory of relativity, Watson and Crick’s paper began a genuine revolution in human affairs. An earlier generation, smitten by the great European physicists and living under the threat of nuclear war, thought that atomic energy was the mythical fire that men had stolen from the gods, as in the Prometheus myth. Now we know better: the stolen “fire” is the knowledge that would allow us to re-manufacture the human condition by manufacturing human beings. That’s the “fire” that Watson and Crick wrested from nature in 1953. It’s a fire that should not be extinguished, for it holds out the promise of healing. But it is a fire that must be handled with extraordinary care. That is going to require our society — indeed, our civilization — to think again about the relationship between knowledge and wisdom. They’re not the same thing.

Ever since the scientific revolution began in the 17th century with Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Rene Descartes, the world has come to think about knowledge the way we think about tools. Knowledge is not knowing what things are or what things are for; rather, knowledge is knowing how things work, so that we can manipulate them as we choose. The remarkable achievements of modern science, married to modern technology, have led many people — and the scientific establishment — to think that it’s possible to ignore the old questions about the nature and purpose of things as we learn to manipulate those things more efficiently. Inside the scientific establishment, it’s a given that questions about the purpose or “end” of things are to be ruthlessly bracketed in order not to impede the advance of our skills in the technical manipulation of things.

This doesn’t make for good philosophy, but it wasn’t all that dangerous as long as the things in question involved the parts of nature that weren’t us. What Watson and Crick’s discovery of the DNA double-helix ensured was that human beings would, eventually, become the objects of scientific and technological manipulation. That possibility is now a reality. As the debates over cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, and the rest of the bio-tech revolution illustrate, we are now, thanks to Watson and Crick, at a fork in the civilizational road. And there is no way to make choices about which path to take without getting serious, once again, about questions of “human nature,” human purpose, and human dignity.

People of faith, who insist that the human person is a mysterious admixture of matter and spirit, bring something important to this discussion. Against those who argue that human beings are essentially the product of inorganic chemical interactions, people of faith insist that the things that are most distinctively human — love, aspiration, longing, nobility, spiritual suffering, the willingness to sacrifice — can’t be explained away (or explained by) reference to “altruistic genes” or biochemical processes. Against those who treat the body as a machine inhabited by what really counts — the autonomous “will” or consciousness — People of faith insist that the body is not an accidental vehicle encasing “me,” but an integral part of who “I” am. In the “Faith” view, humanness is a both: “body and soul.”

Every position in today’s bio-tech debates carries within it a set of assumptions about human nature: that “human nature” is a matter of biochemistry, and thus can be manipulated like anything else in nature; that human nature is defined by human willfulness, which means that we can, legitimately, re-make ourselves as we choose; or that human nature is unique combination of the physical and the spiritual, which suggests that there are moral truths built into us, truths to which we’d better pay very careful attention in managing the new fire of genetic knowledge.

Knowledge and wisdom are, emphatically, not the same. In the new world created by Watson and Crick, wisdom is urgently needed, if knowledge isn’t to destroy what it aims to serve.

Imagination is more important than knowledge…Albert Einstein
Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.Mark Twain
The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand.Frank Herbert
Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.Immanuel Kant
Generation Y thinks we know it all. We go off to college to get a good education, a fancy degree, and then think we know how to do everything right away. I often tell people that while I’m glad I pursued a Master’s degree, my coursework only taught me how to do things, it didn’t really teach me how to get things done. Going to school did not teach me how to communicate effectively with different types of people or how to build consensus around an issue. It didn’t teach me how to deal with ethical dilemmas in the workplace. it didn’t even teach me what to do when I screw up. I learned all that through trial and error, and from the wisdom of my peers and older colleagues. There is a huge disconnect between the theory and the application of things, especially in doing nonprofit work. Young people need the education (which does not necessarily have to come from a university or college), but we also need the wisdom that comes from failing, and learning from our mistakes. I think there’s a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. Rosetta Thurman
If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.Isaac Asimov
Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it.Samuel Johnson
Mankind have a great aversion to intellectual labor; but even supposing knowledge to be easily attainable, more people would be content to be ignorant than would take even a little trouble to acquire it.Samuel Johnson
Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.Samuel Johnson

Knowledge through Stories

By Justin Taylor

We adults tend to think that we arrive at the truth of a story by reducing it to two or three abstractions that the narrative embodies. The parable of the Prodigal Son is “about” grace and forgiveness. The Lord of the Rings is “about” courage and friendship….

But our children know it’s the story that does the work on us, not the disembodied precept. If you don’t believe it, open up a book of Aesop’s Fables; skip the fables, and just read the morals at the end of the fables. You might just as well tell punch lines instead of telling jokes. The moral may summarize the story and bring it to a point, but the moral isn’t the point.

It’s not that abstract concepts or ideas are unimportant. Mercy, forgiveness, repentance, abundance—all the things that form the basis of Virtue—are abstract concepts. But being mere mortals, we can’t really understand any of those things if they aren’t grounded in what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. You can talk about forgiveness until you’re blue in the face, but you aren’t going to come up with a definition that improves on the parable of the Prodigal Son: a father, arms outstretched, welcoming a rebellious and wicked son back into his home. And the word “friendship” doesn’t mean much unless you’ve seen a friend in action—Sam Gamgee, for instance, nearly drowning himself rather than let Frodo journey to Mordor alone.

It’s very true that stories give us a kind of knowledge that mere precepts can’t, and this should be a good reminder to us about using stories to teach.

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.Alfred Lord Tennyson
Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination.Bertrand Russell
Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority.Thomas H. Huxley
Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.Audre Lorde
Fear is a question: What are you afraid of, and why? Just as the seed of health is in illness, because illness contains information, your fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if you explore them.Marilyn Ferguson
If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.Margaret Fuller

Too Much Knowledge?

Our current global problems stem from our long-standing pursuit of knowledge dissociated from the more fundamental pursuit of wisdom. Population growth, the terrifyingly lethal character of modern war and terrorism, immense discrepancies of wealth across the globe, annihilation of indigenous people, cultures and languages, impending depletion of natural resources, destruction of tropical rain forests and other natural habitats, rapid mass extinction of species, pollution of sea, earth and air, thinning of the ozone layer, global warming – even the aids epidemic: all these relatively recent crises have been made possible by modern science and technology. It is not that people became greedier or more wicked in the 19th and 20th centuries; nor is it that the new economic system of capitalism is responsible, as some historians and economists would have us believe.

The crucial factor is the creation and immense success of modern science and technology. This has led to modern medicine and hygiene, to population growth, to modern agriculture and industry, to world-wide travel (which spreads diseases such as aids), and to the destructive might of the technology of modern war and terrorism, conventional, chemical, biological, nuclear.

All this is more or less inevitable, granted that science is dissociated from the more fundamental pursuit of wisdom. Successful science produces knowledge, which facilitates the development of technology, both of which enormously increase our power to act. It is to be expected that this power will often be used beneficially (as it has been used), to cure disease, feed people, and in general enhance the quality of human life. But it is also to be expected, in the absence of wisdom, that such an abrupt, massive increase in power will be used to cause harm, whether unintentionally, as in the case (initially at least) of environmental damage, or intentionally, as in war and terror.

Before the advent of modern science, lack of wisdom did not matter too much; we lacked the means to do too much damage to ourselves and the planet. But now, in possession of unprecedented powers bequeathed to us by science, lack of wisdom, stemming from the degradation of our character and morality, has become a menace.

Far better to think historically, to remember the lessons of the past. Thus, far better to conceive of power as consisting in part of the knowledge of when not to use all the power you have. Far better to be one who knows that if you reserve the power not to use all your power, you will lead others far more successfully and well.A. Bartlett Giamatti
Never lose sight of this important truth, that no one can be truly great until he has gained a knowledge of himself, a knowledge which can only be acquired by occasional retirement.Johann Georg von Zimmermann
The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.Socrates
The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.Herbert Spencer
Knowledge can be communicated, but wisdom cannot. A man can find it, he can live it, he can be filled and sustained by it, but he cannot utter or teach it.Hermann Hesse

Socrates and Knowledge

When Plato sat down and wrote of the wise teacher Socrates in his work “The Apology” this statement, in which Socrates was purported to have said is one of the gems that have withstood time and place.

To know we know nothing is to remain humble and heart centered, not ego driven. Since it appears that most issues in society are centered on having power, retaining power, empowering oneself or others, or dis empowering another for perceived one-up-manship, this wonderfully inspired sentiment gets lots on a narcissistic society.

It would appear that narcissism is alive and spreading in the 21st century. All one need do is look at someone’s Facebook page to see the multitude of pictures of the self-strewn in the albums, and the focus on the life of the self from the ridiculous to the sublime. It is not enough that we think of the effects of something from our own gain or loss, but now we focus on the minutiae of our bodily functions twittering them to all those willing to read those 140 or less updates. There are several articles that examine the idea that because they were often told they were “special” and could “do anything they wanted to do” many of our twenty and thirty something offspring believe they are in fact “entitled” to any and all things by virtue of being alive. This undermines the point mom and dad were trying to make. Told they had limitations during their youth, mom and dad wanted to be sure their offspring knew they had lots of choices in life, but there was nothing in the pep talk that told them to be egotistically self-centered in the process!

Knowledge is something we hope to acquire over a lifetime, and by both knowledge and experience we come to the real goal: to attain wisdom. But wisdom and knowledge are fluid. No one, even someone as brilliant as Socrates stops learning, growing and assimilating information. When we come to think ourselves better than another, smarter, or ingrained in a solid belief system, we limit the lives we live. For what is better than knowing each person and new experience, even those that are seemingly perceived as negative can help us to grow? At the onset of each new season, I am sure to remind myself that our players are there to teach me too, and I am open to learn and grow from each of them. The relationship is based on equality, more than an insufferable sense of superiority. I may have studied life longer than they, and have loved longer than them, but what makes me wiser? The only thing that makes me wise is knowing I know nothing, and can continue to learn from each new day.

Socrates was considered a dissident in Greece in his time. He was condemned as a heretic for that which he taught his students and sentenced to die by ingesting hemlock. It was the answer that the Oracle at Delphi gave when asked who was the wisest man in Athens at the time. The Oracle replied it was Socrates, although he believed this to be a paradox. Those in Athens who believed themselves to be wise were actually not wise, but Socrates who knew he was not wise was the wisest of all for his admission of his ignorance.

Not wanting to change who he was, Socrates remained true to his beliefs and willingly drank the hemlock that killed him at the end. His death makes him a martyr for his beliefs and opens the door for his student, Plato to write of his thoughts and philosophical discussions that were compilations of possible discussions in his lifetime. When he was on trial for corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens, he used his insights to demonstrate to the jurors that their moral values are not aligned. He reminds them that the material concerns of life should be balanced with concern for one’s soul. And it is this soul that is sorely missing from the way people interact in society today as well.

There is nothing wrong with ego if it is in balance with all other areas of one’s life. It is when the ego overtakes our lives completely that we can become arrogant, judgmental and self-centered. As in all things we must seek to balance our lives with beauty, humbleness and generosity, compassion and love for our fellow man, and remember that there is much to learn, and even if we lived another 200 years, there is no way we could learn it all.

If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free mind is not a barking dog, to be tethered on a ten-foot chain.Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.
To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.Marilyn vos Savant
His priority did not seem to be to teach them what he knew, but rather to impress upon them that nothing, not even… knowledge, was foolproof.J. K. Rowling
Knowledge is the only instrument of production that is not subject to diminishing returns.John Maurice
All our progress is an unfolding, like a vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.Ralph Waldo Emerson

Personal Knowledge — an Island in a Sea of Ignorance

If our personal knowledge is an island in an infinite sea of ignorance, how can we in our short lifetime find satisfaction in exploring our little island? How can we persuade ourselves to be exhilarated by our meager knowledge and yet not be discouraged by that big ocean on the horizon?

There may be ways to accommodate ourselves to our ignorance while enjoying our common exploring. What might they be?

In history: History is a world of dark continents. Any historian worth his salt knows that the unknown past – enlarging every moment – will always be incomparably vaster than we know or we think we know. And current events become widening currents of ignorance. The answer is to exploit and enjoy the little that we really seem to know. This means luxuriating in the cosmic significance of trivia. We must love facts indiscriminately without professional or conventional snobbery, and be grateful for them all. We express our gratitude by finding surprising meanings in them.

In politics: We should look at democracy, government by amateurs, as a way of confessing the limits of our knowledge. The amateur is not afraid to do something for the first time. With our amenable constitutional congressional government we avoid the tyranny of anybody’s pretense to know all the right answers. And so we need not suffer the paralysis of indecision because we don’t know it all.

In religion: All of us together – if we are allowed to be free – are discovering ways of conversing about the great mysteries. The pretense to know all the answers to the deepest mysteries is, of course, the grossest fraud. And any people who declare a Jihad, a holy war on “unbelievers” – those who do not share their believers’ pretended omniscience – are enemies of thinking men and woman and of civilization. Religion is the only a way of asking unanswerable questions, of sharing the joy of a community of quest, and solacing one another in our ignorance.

In science: Science is only a search for temporarily answerable questions. The history of science is especially chastening and adventurous. No dogmas have been more confidently asserted than those of the scientists – from Aristotle to Ptolemy to Copernicus to Newton. Yet no dogmas are more suddenly or more unexpectedly upset. The courage to imagine the otherwise is our greatest resource, adding color and suspense to all our life. The courage to believe is easy, with lots of respectable company, but we should admire more the courage to doubt.

In love and the family: Our love for our children commits us to do duties we can never properly discharge. How can we guide our children if we know how crudely we have governed our own future? Still, we cannot help feeling a duty to share with our children our convictions, suspicions, knowledge about the future. We feel we have not done our duty if we have not insisted that they avoid some simply mistakes we have seen ourselves or others making. But we sometimes feel we are imposing on them the limits of our knowledge and experience. Are we passing on credible knowledge? What is enough – but not too much – knowledge to give our children? And ultimately, what are the chances they will follow it anyhow?

There is nothing more beautiful than the mystery of things. The world would be a desert if we knew all the answers – yet each of us has the desiccating power to make the world less interesting by our pretensions to know.

In our age we are menaced by the cost-effective syndrome, which is the more menacing because it masquerades as prudence. It is a way of promoting the extinction of cultural species. The best things in life are free! Love, knowledge, art, music, literature, community, have no bottom line. It should worry us all when we see the leaders of our great cultural institutions – universities, publishing houses, museums, libraries – measuring our hopes and dreams in a budget. With the way the economy is today, these assassins of the spreadsheet can impoverish our lives by removing from our daily experience “the best things in life”. How will this stunt the experiences of our grandchildren?

Institutions, professions, politics, and economics might be sinking our boats, but we should always teach our children how to explore their tiny island of knowledge with enthusiasm, as well encourage them to learn to swim…….. because a few of them might just have the imagination and courage to swim out for that distant horizon and bring back new knowledge to our island.

Knowledge, if it does not determine action, is dead to us.Plotinus
Our knowledge is the amassed thought and experience of innumerable minds.Ralph Waldo Emerson
People are difficult to govern because they have too much knowledge.Lao-tzu
This is the bitterest pain among men, to have much knowledge but no power.Herodotus
All men by nature desire knowledge.Aristotle
The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.Ralph W. Sockman
Knowledge is a sacred cow, and our problem will be how we can milk her while keeping clear of her horns.Albert Szent-Györgyi
Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.Confucius
Knowledge is haunted by the ghost of past opinion.Author Unknown
A love affair with knowledge will never end in heartbreak.Michael Garrett Marino

More on Knowledge

Knowledge, being a primitive fact of consciousness, cannot, strictly speaking, be defined; but the direct and spontaneous consciousness of knowing may be made clearer by pointing out its essential and distinctive characteristics. It will be useful first to consider briefly the current uses of the verb “to know”. To say that I know a certain man may mean simply that I have met him, and recognize him when I meet him again. This implies the permanence of a mental image enabling me to discern this man from all others. Sometimes, also, more than the mere familiarity with external features is implied. To know a man may mean to know his character, his inner and deeper qualities, and hence to expect him to act in a certain way under certain circumstances. The man who asserts that he knows an occurrence to be a fact means that he is so certain of it as to have no doubt concerning its reality. A pupil knows his lesson when he has mastered it and is able to recite it, and this, as the case may be, requires either mere retention in memory, or also, in addition to this retention, the intellectual work of understanding. A science is known when its principles, methods, and conclusions are understood, and the various facts and laws referring to it co-ordinated and explained. These various meanings may be reduced to two classes, one referring chiefly to sense-knowledge and to the recognition of particular experiences, the other referring chiefly to the understanding of general laws and principles. This distinction is expressed in many languages by the use of two different verbs—by gnônai and eidénai, in Greek; by cognoscere and scire, in Latin, and by their derivatives in the Romance languages; in German by kennen and wissen.

In your thirst for knowledge, be sure not to drown in all the information.Anthony J. D'Angelo
What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.George Bernard Shaw
One part of knowledge consists in being ignorant of such things as are not worthy to be known.Crates
The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.Daniel J. Boorstin
Of course there’s a lot of knowledge in universities: the freshmen bring a little in; the seniors don’t take much away, so knowledge sort of accumulates.Abbott Lawrence Lowell
Knowledge is the true organ of sight, not the eyes.Panchatantra
To be master of any branch of knowledge, you must master those which lie next to it; and thus to know anything you must know all.Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

WHAT IS TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE?

Traditional Knowledge Systems with indigenous peoples. When an elder dies, a library burns.

An Eskimo hunter once saw a polar bear far off across flat ice, where he could not stalk it without being seen. But he knew an old technique of mimicking a seal. He lay down in plain sight, conspicuous in his dark parka and pants, then lifted and dropped his head like a seal, scratched the ice and imitated flippers with his hands. The bear mistook his pursuer for prey. Each time the hunter lifted his head the animal kept still; whenever the hunter ìslept, the bear crept closer. When it came near enough, a gunshot pierced the snowy silence. That night, polar bear meat was shared among the villagers.

A traditional hunter plumbs the depth of his intellect – his capacity to manipulate complex knowledge. But he also delves into his animal nature, drawing from intuitions of sense and body and heart; feeling the windís touch, listening for the tick of moving ice, peering from crannies, hiding himself as if he were the hunted. He moves in a world of eyes, where everything watches – the bear, the seal, the wind, the moon and stars, the drifting ice, the silent waters below. He is beholden to powers greater than his own.

What is traditional knowledge?

An understanding of traditional knowledge and how it differs from non-indigenous knowledge is an important basis for determining how to use it. Knowing what it contains and how it is acquired and held is fundamental to being able to make good use of the knowledge and to encourage all parties to be aware of the added value its use will bring.

The indigenous people of the world possess an immense knowledge of their environments, based on centuries of living close to nature. Living in and from the richness and variety of complex ecosystems, they have an understanding of the properties of plants and animals, the functioning of ecosystems and the techniques for using and managing them that is particular and often detailed. In rural communities in developing countries, locally occurring species are relied on for many – sometimes all – foods, medicines, fuel, building materials and other products. Equally, indigenous people’s knowledge and perceptions of the environment, and their relationships with it, are often important elements of cultural identity.

Most indigenous people have traditional songs, stories, legends, dreams, methods and practices as means of transmitting specific human elements of traditional knowledge. Sometimes it is preserved in artifacts handed from father to son or mother to daughter. In indigenous knowledge systems, there is usually no real separation between secular and sacred knowledge and practice – they are one and the same. In virtually all of these systems, knowledge is transmitted directly from individual to individual.

How do Native people define traditional knowledge?

  1. It is practical common sense based on teachings and experiences passed on from generation to generation.
  2. It is knowing the country. It covers knowledge of the environment – snow, ice, weather, resources – and the relationships between things.
  3. It is holistic. It cannot be compartmentalized and cannot be separated from the people who hold it.
  4. It is rooted in the spiritual health, culture and language of the people. It is a way of life.
  5. Traditional knowledge is an authority system. It sets out the rules governing the use of resources – respect, an obligation to share. It is dynamic, cumulative and stable. It is truth.
  6. Traditional knowledge is a way of life -wisdom is using traditional knowledge in good ways. It is using the heart and the head together. It comes from the spirit in order to survive.
  7. It gives credibility to the people.
He not only overflowed with learning, but stood in the slop.Rev. Sidney Smith
For every man, education should be a process which continues all his life. We have to abandon, as swiftly as possible, the idea that schooling is something restricted to youth. How can it be, in a world where half the things a man knows at 20 are no longer true at 40–and half the things he knows at 40 hadn’t been discovered when he was 20?Arthur C. Clarke
Truth is eternal, knowledge is changeable. It is disastrous to confuse them.Madeleine L'Engle
Not to know what has been transacted in former times is to be always a child. If no use is made of the labors of past ages, the world must remain always in the infancy of knowledge.Cicero
Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinions in good men is but knowledge in the making.John Milton
Anyone who relies exclusively on television for his or her knowledge of the world is making a serious mistake.Steve Powers

Knowledge vs Wisdom

Knowledge is but the messenger that calls you to wisdom, but it is not wisdom. One can gain knowledge, but one does not seek wisdom – one meets it when it is bestowed on him as a gift. Knowledge puts us in the way of wisdom, but wisdom is experiential; it is a truth one recognizes in the external world that already resides in the internal one. You can learn knowledge, but you cannot “learn” wisdom – one must awaken it.

Knowledge gives you the tools but never mistake the tools for the treasure.

One way to use the tools of knowledge is by learning from everything – people, books, experiences, pain and pleasure, this age and ages past. A wise old sage once said that people can learn from anything, even off of the back of a can of peas. Read everything.

Knowledge is intellectual – wisdom is divine. The more you seek knowledge about things eternal and increasing your spirituality, the more wisdom you will be blessed with. Knowledge is known, wisdom is felt. When wisdom is revealed to you – it does not explain itself – it reveals itself, like manna from heaven. It awakens within as an all-encompassing flood of warm illumination or like a bolt of lightning that shocks or stuns you. This is why many call it enlightenment or having an epiphany. Wisdom does not need digesting, deliberating, debating or dissecting by doubt or reason. It breathes within you as calm surety and perfect peace.

Knowledge is the language of the temporal, wisdom is the language of eternity. Knowledge teaches us how to use our senses, how to observe nature, how to evaluate it, how to record life lessons, and how others before us did the same. We first learn wisdom in life by experience, (usually painful experience) and then as we grow, we recognize wisdom in life by example.

There is no magic spell to achieve this. Most must seek knowledge to awaken wisdom. The more we know, the more we realize how much we don’t know. Our growth in knowledge is accompanied by our growth in humility, as we face the vastness of the unknown.

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.Daniel J. Boorstin
Knowledge is power.Sir Francis Bacon
To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.Benjamin Disraeli
Knowledge and timber shouldn’t be much used till they are seasoned.Oliver Wendell Holmes

#2. The “Herd” Culture.

The modern-minded man, although he believes profoundly in the wisdom of his period, must be presumed to be very modest about his personal powers. His highest hope is to think first what is about to be thought, to say what is about to be said, and to feel what is about to be felt; he has no wish to think better thoughts than his neighbors, to say things showing more insight, or to have emotions which are not those of some fashionable group, but only to be slightly ahead of others in point of time. Quite deliberately he suppresses what is individual in himself for the sake of the admiration of the herd.Bertrand Russell

No self-contemplation only herd-contemplation.

#3. The current “Speed” of knowledge. Faster than we can comprehend.

#4. The effect of Television

Consider the printed word and television. When James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wanted every state to sign onto the idea of a federal constitution, they wrote numerous articles for a New York newspaper. With much care they laid out their case. They organized their thoughts in order, arguing from point A to point B; they alluded frequently to the history of states; they expatiated upon such subjects as taxation and revenue, security and liberty, elections and treaties. They utilized the written word and habits of linear thought to convince every doubter that a national constitution would be in each state’s interest.

Today, when the political class wishes to win support for an idea, whether the North American Free Trade Agreement or war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it doesn’t turn out nuanced essays or rely on its staggering command of historical fact to secure the consent of constituencies. It takes to the airwaves and disseminates shibboleths and slogans. It realizes its aim through press briefings, political commercials, evening news broadcasts. When President Bush gave the order to bomb Afghanistan, no one naturally expected him to write a 50,000-word essay defending the idea. It was judged a miracle that he could look into a teleprompter, read something banal that his aids wrote, look wan and wrought, and come off appearing “strong and in control.” Nothing else was required of him, and approval for his plan of action soared into the 90 percent range.

Other than the printed word, there was no other mediating influence on the reader of the Federalist Papers. To understand what Madison and Hamilton and Jay were communicating, readers had to follow an introduction, a thesis, and a summary; the narrative proceeded along the lines of cause and effect, of linear order, of a logical sequence of evidence and ideas.

As we know, the experience of television is dramatically different. The tube appeals to our emotions, not to our reason; a smile, a wink, a laugh, a clearing of the throat, standing erect and tall are to a good television performance (I mean political performance) what a thousand references to Cicero and Polybius once were under the reign of the written word. Television is non-linear, disjunctive, spastic, and image- and sound-centered.

But television, like any other medium, is something else, namely, a producer of new norms. A sitcom isn’t merely another harmless show, a means to escape the routine of one’s day: it is also an example of a suggested norm, a way that other people, albeit fictional, interact with one another and experience reality. Their skit is an advertisement for what’s normal “out in the land.” A discussion about U.S. foreign policy on cable subconsciously communicates boundaries and limits. “This is how a normal discussion unfolds, and these assembled guests are examples of responsible participants in such a discussion” — this message is ever subtly conveyed to the average passive viewer.

Needless to say, after tens of thousands of hours of viewing, the public becomes inured to the television format. Three-minute discussions followed by three minutes of commercials supersede the experience of sitting still for a few hours and carefully following a narrative. Personalities and demeanors trump content and evidence. Distinctions, complexities, and depth are ousted by gestures and tones of voice, by cute one-liners, by any gimmick or personality that can insipidly be said to be agreeable or disagreeable, likeable or unlikeable.

V. The Influence Of “Pop Culture” On Identity

It is difficult to see how anyone can seriously seek knowledge — to read, to study, to ponder, to travel, to ferret out and weigh uncongenial ideologies, to nourish curiosity and wrestle with challenging ideas — while having to live and breathe in a society that privileges aloofness of manner, sameness of personality, giddiness about the wonders of a market economy, and untutored political points of view.

A really intelligent person doesn’t seem to fit in so easily. He questions something before he accepts it. He asks unpleasant and disturbing questions. He doesn’t give a whit about consensus and trends. His first loyalty is knowing something, not pleasing anybody.

But such a person must naturally be seen as an odd fit in a world informed by advertising and movies and television. This world succeeded long ago in establishing the “cool man and cool woman.” The key to being cool is to be odd and eccentric and “rebellious” in all the things that don’t count (e.g., the way one wears one’s hair, the part of the body designated for piercings, use of certain exotic colors in the casual wardrobe) while seeking the same thing everyone else is seeking, namely, group affection and acceptance. The cool man doesn’t talk much, is confidently taciturn, stoic and unemotional, very handsome or very rich. The cool woman is preferably very cute or very beautiful, naturally “strong” (meaning she has opinions and she can articulate them in a grammatically correct way, has a college education), has “attitude” (i.e., looks undaunted, wears leather boots or five-inch heels), knows what suitor is worthy of her (a rich guy, of course), can flash a smile or turn out a laugh when the occasion clearly calls for it (e.g., at an important cocktail party).

There is every disharmony in the world between the imposture of “coolness” and the sincere effort to know more and learn more and see more — between a fashionable and “cool” personality and a stubborn, probing, insatiable mind. Were Bertrand Russell in our midst, he might say that the cool man and cool woman only wish to have the emotions of some fashionable group, that it is they who suppress the individual in themselves for the sake of the herd’s admiration.

Each one of us can decide not to model our self after prevailing images. We can ignore the television set or get rid of it. We can pass over a season of movies. We can decide to forego weekly magazines and Sunday newspapers and immerse ourselves in great literature.

We can choose a career that will allow us to explore the best mysteries of existence.