On Knowledge and Wisdom

One of the essential activities for us humans should be knowledge management. In one way or another, we have to manage various types of knowledge in our everyday lives. If so, what is knowledge in the first place? How should we define it? How is it different from other realms like data, information, and wisdom?

One common difference would be as follows.

Data is a series of merely accumulated things. We (our subjectivity) can detach from it unless and until it can be valuable and meaningful. Once we recognize it as something useful and meaningful in our specific perspectives, it is no longer mere data. We could call it information. For example, the traffic data is only the raw material, while the traffic information is helpful for our planning in the timetable.

If we spend more time understanding and interpreting information from various perspectives, we could see the further emergence of another realm, which could be what we call knowledge. In the realm of knowledge, a series of multi-perspective and meta-perspective have gotten involved in our process of understanding and interpreting what both data and information could tell us. Indeed, the process of our effortful articulation can generate and update a bunch of knowledge. When we think, therefore, what we usually do is create and manage a string of knowledge. That’s why we call those “thinking” people knowledge workers.

Wisdom is still in another realm, which is even qualitatively different from knowledge. If knowledge is the result of our effortful articulations, wisdom is something beyond this effort. While knowledge is not free from spacetime influences, wisdom could be timeless and spaceless.

For example, we learn many things from the wisdom of our great ancient teachers of humankind. And our learning seems endless. Even their words thousands of years ago can give us valuable insights into our lives now. Wisdom is, in this sense, ahistorical paradoxically because of its historic preservation. It is beyond the geo-historic limitations. It is timeless and spaceless.

On the other hand, knowledge is heavily geo-historical – both time and space matter in terms of how it generates and updates itself. The continuous update on itself is one of the core attributes of knowledge. The world is no longer flat. The globe is no longer the center of the universe. Newtonian physics is not applicable in the quantum domain. Human rights have saved people from premodern cruelties and superstitions.

Knowledge should be up-to-date. Obsolete knowledge is what we have to update by our efforts. That is one of the critical components of how we manage and generate knowledge. Knowledge management is indispensable for this crucial evolution of human culture and society, which is one of the essential drivers to move our civilizations forward.

Therefore, for instance, what we see in the libraries is primarily the accumulation of various types of knowledge. The history of human civilizations is on the continuous creations and updates of such human knowledge. Both books and libraries could be the symbol of knowledge. Moreover, the basis of knowledge is logos or words. That is to say, a set of “grids” that we humans recognize the world in our consciousness.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

Knowledge has several types depending on how we interact with it. For example, Kant categorized it as two types like a priori and a posteriori. The former is a type of knowledge we possess without a specific learning process, though understanding words (logos) must be a prerequisite. The latter should be the rest of all knowledge.

For example, a series of axiomatic systems should be in the group of a priori knowledge. A formula like “a + b = b + a” should be valid without other logical processes. We don’t have to prove it in the first place. The latter is not the case. All the theories in any domain of knowledge are the products of these processes deductively and inductively.

But then, knowledge is not only in this mathematical process but should be under various types of knowledge management activities. Historical knowledge should be a different creature. In it, we have to go through the complex process of multiple historiographies with their intersubjectivity. Ethical knowledge is still another creature. What should be the moral axiom that everyone can agree on without exception? Even the concept of love or cruelty would be diverse when we treat it as knowledge.

Even in mathematics, when one axiom is valid in Euclidean geometry, which is not applicable anymore in other realms. Astrophysicists claim that there should be a so-called God equation, which should be applicable throughout the entire universe. And they seek it. But then, it seems that as soon as we find it, it will no longer be the God equation by definition.

Knowledge is, after all, the constant flux of the relative grids that we keep on updating. It seems that we in the contemporary world know more about the world and the universe than our ancestors. They didn’t see the world was not flat. They didn’t know the exact number of planets in the solar system, either. They had never thought of quantum computing power. We have overcome a lot of bacterial and viral diseases. We have achieved the unprecedented comfort of our lives with the longevity of almost 100 years.

Are we more intelligent than our ancestors?

Definitely, the power of knowledge saved us from various miseries of our lives. It made us far more intelligent than we have imagined. From their perspective, perhaps our smartness is almost god-level like Homo Deus, not Homo Sapiens anymore.

We are smarter. But we are so only in terms of knowledge management. As knowledge workers, we can see the world and the universe only with “much higher resolution.” The grid of contemporary knowledge is complex and sophisticated. The lens of knowledge we wear is powerful to see everything clearly and vividly. All of them, however, are only “filters.” We are only proud of their functionality. We cannot see anything beyond them.

While we can be smarter with the power of knowledge, after all, we always go back to the tautology that we see only what we see in ourselves.

If ever we brag about our smartness, perhaps Socrates would tell us again.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.

Let me repeat the sentence above. Wisdom is qualitatively different from knowledge. Knowledge is spacetime-bound. People tend to seek the quantity of knowledge as if the more we know, the better and the more intelligent we can be. How many books have you read? How many degrees and PhDs do you have? These are all important. But again, wisdom rests on knowing you know nothing.

It is timeless and spaceless, even making us selfless. We still learn wisdom from ancient teachers. It is not because they know a lot and more intelligent, but because they know they are nobody, so we are. Such learning is endless and goalless, as it is selfless. It is even meaningless in such a way that at the moment of total surrender, even at the end of life, the naked reality would show its true face without all knowledge at all.

Image by Georgi Dyulgerov

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