Friday, May 31, 2013

Knowledge is Infinite: The Good and The Bad

In earlier times, the knowledge that a society possessed was trapped in a small geographical space - a country, town, community, kingdom, etc. Then, the Industrial Revolution put more information into the hands of more people with the invention of the Gutenburg printing press, which made books and the like affordable for all. Now, we are experiencing another revolution, The Digital Revolution, and the information available at our hands 24/7 is increasing exponentially.

Over the last decade the Internet has opened up our ability to research anything under the sun. The internet doubles every 5 years - that is new bloggers with new things to say (like me!), new scientists with new findings to report, new writers with new stories to tell. Because the information already available to us is so incalculably vast, and the information that has yet to be discovered, invented, etc is scarce to be imagined, I conclude that KNOWLEDGE IS INFINITE. How exciting!! The more we learn, the more we realize the truth of Socrates's old adage: "I know that I know nothing". Learning the truth goes hand-in-hand with realizing how ignorant we really are.

The quest for knowledge is therefore literally never ending. But it is far from a perfect delight. As with anything there are pros and cons. Whereas in the past because information was so hard to come by the biggest threat to freedom was censorship, now in the 21st century the biggest threat to freedom is TOO MUCH INFORMATION. After all, who needs to ban a book if nobody will read it when they are distracted by twitter, facebook, gossip, useless news, and trivialities?

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" - T.S. Eliot, The Rock

Sorry if I insulted your respected and hard-earned Masters Degree in Memeology. We must separate the wheat from the chaff if we want to grow, make new discoveries and connections, perceive new patterns, etc. 

So with all of the above kept in mind, a big problem that I can foresee developing in today's world is learning to differentiate between DATA, INFORMATION, KNOWLEDGE, and WISDOM.

DATA = Collections of facts.

INFORMATION = Data that has been processed into systems that make it easy to understand.

KNOWLEDGE = Information that has been comprehended through study, analyzing, memorization, concentration, etc.

WISDOM = Knowledge that has been applied very often and deeply understood.

This is, I think, easy to understand.

There is a clear progression:
INFORMATION + COMPREHENSION = KNOWLEDGE, KNOWLEDGE + APPLICATION = WISDOM. You can also see a big leap from Knowledge to Wisdom: while Knowledge is the ability to have confidence on a given subject and is gained from book-smarts, Wisdom is an ability to make correct judgement-calls and is gained from personal experience.

Think of it this way: A man is given a note to copy down in class about the brain, and then has to use it to answer a question-sheet based on that note. He possess INFORMATION about the brain. The man studies, and perhaps even appreciates, the topic very deeply and aces his exam about the brain. He KNOWS what he is talking about. Then, he becomes a respected Neurosurgeon. Now he is truly WISE about his topic. He could probably teach it to others by passing down what he understands so they could go through the whole process like he just did.

This is also a clear way of distinguishing a bookworm from a sage. The bookworm could tell you about his topic, but a sage will simply live it. A sage's life is a testament to his wisdom - he does not need PHD's, doctorates, published books, etc.

So while the modern world offers us an unprecedented amount of information in just about any and every medium imaginable, as individuals and as a society we have yet to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff. After all, in the end, we don't want information or data - we want WISDOM. 

Because knowledge is infinite, it is far better to have a deep understanding of a few topics than to have a superficial understanding of just about everything. In the past, it was possible for someone to know and apply every topic under the sun because the knowledge available was small. But not anymore. Quality is better than quantity when it comes to information.

The internet has the power to make self-education the best kind of education, a prospect that has never existed before in the whole history of mankind.

"I don't let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain

I know this from personal experience, because a lot of the things that I am the most interested in are taught on the internet - not school. So if you want to become knowledgeable in a world where it was never easier, you need to develop concentration. Concentration is critical to learning and retaining new things. If you are reading about the GREATEST IDEA EVER, something that will change your life radically if you apply it, but get distracted by your Ipod, Email, television, etc, then whatever you may have been learning about the greatest idea ever has been replaced by this new, superficial information. 

If you are always surrounded by technology, then you are living in an almost constant state of distraction. It is like living with mist obscuring your vision 24/7: you can see, but not clearly enough. The calmer, more contemplative modes of thinking are what really allow for Wisdom to sink in and for Inspiration to dawn on us. 

The only way to make the kind of transformative connections between what you read on the 'net and your actions is through this quieter, contemplative mode of thinking. This is why I think Meditation and Mindfulness are quickly becoming more popular. It is as if they are the only way to survive in the Digital Age, remain sane, and take advantage of the new mental landscapes. There are a wealth of resources on the internet that can help you learn Meditation and Mindfulness, which will help you differentiate information from wisdom, and become truly Wise.

So? What are you waiting for? All the wisdom you could ever have is available to you, waiting to be understood, to be refreshed, to have new connections made to it, and then finally, for you yourself to consider yourself a proud contributor to Humanity's never ending library. All you need is a little concentration and a little motivation. 


Awesome sites to help you learn: 
1. Ted Talks 
2. Epipheo
3. Mindfulness