KNOWLEDGE & WISDOM, What is wisdom and where it differs from knowledge


“There are many who know many things, yet are lacking in wisdom.”    — Democritus (Ancient Greek Philosopher)

As time advances, man’s knowledge on various aspects of this world, ranging from man’s physical being to the study of planets and to nature and its functions, also continues to grow. Moreover, the human race is coming up with more and more sophisticated tools that are revolutionizing every sphere and every field of human activity. This is all happening due to a continual increase in knowledge. As they say, there are two sides to every coin, if on the one hand, the technological advancement effected by the increase in knowledge has led to some tremendous benefits, it’s probably man’s biggest handicap, on the other. It is so because it has led man to indulge in the thought that he has control over everything and that he has the power to do or undo anything. Considering this claim in an age where man is claiming to become progressively open-minded is another paradox that we are experiencing.

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein points out man’s limitation by saying, “Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” With advances in knowledge, man has largely pursued, and been led by, the former of the two faculties i.e. logic. The appreciation or the imagination for what could be beyond what is fathomable is diminishing for modern man.

Knowledge & Arrogance

“Something deeply hidden had to be behind things,” was the thought that drove Einstein’s effort in trying to make sense of the world around him and beyond. This notion, unfortunately, is increasingly getting dismissed by modern minds.

Confucius, one of the most revered Chinese philosophers, aptly outlines this fine nuance when he says, “To know what you know and to know what you don’t know, that is the real wisdom.”

Unfortunately, in today’s modern age, the last part of Confucian thought is losing its relevance for most of us. Regardless of whether we have the knowledge of something or not, we the human beings are inclined toward claiming to know, or have knowledge in, everything. What is clear is that wisdom does not lead to arrogance but more reflection and amazement about how little we know.

The flawed correlation between man’s knowledge level and man’s open-mindedness in relation to what is not fathomable through his senses is partly due to the lack of appreciation for the facts and the hidden meaning behind these facts that man has been able to decipher so far. This is where wisdom differs from knowledge. One looks for meaning, which can be a lifelong effort, whilst the other is a tool that has the potential to make man’s life both miserable and comfortable. The level of wisdom usually determines the direction of the latter.

Einstein explains the difference between how both are acquired in the following terms, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but a lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

Confucius suggests reflection is the noblest way of gaining wisdom, although he also advises that it could also be gained through imitation which is the easiest, and experience which is the bitterest.

Purpose of Seeking Knowledge

Here the purpose of acquiring knowledge plays a crucial role. It is the purpose of acquiring knowledge that determines the significance of one’s efforts when trying to acquire knowledge. With the advent of the internet, one can easily become knowledgeable in any field of one’s choosing; however, determining what we do with the information and our lives requires wisdom, which requires reflection.

Ancient Islamic scholars, Ancient Greek scholars and modern-day scholars did not only try to obtain information or knowledge for self-realization or to add to mankind’s comfort, they also had a more superior purpose which was either to have an improved understanding of life or help others to develop a more genuine meaning of life. Of late, unfortunately, research and researchers are more driven by self-realization and self-interest, and this doesn’t help with the handicap that man is in, which is narrowing his ability to imagine and give consideration to the thought that there is a hidden meaning behind everything.

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