Friday, January 29, 2016

Knowledge vs Wisdom

I have read several articles lately that have got me thinking. The main premise of these articles was the idea that more knowledgeable and intelligent people tend to prefer certain political ideas. The arguments are that if most "smart" people think it's a good idea and most "dumb" people think it's a bad idea then it is reasonable to assume that we should follow the advice of the "smart" people.

I think that this is a great idea, we should listen to the people that are most likely to know the best answer in any aspect of our lives. We go to doctors to find out what we should do to remain healthy. We go to accountants to make sure we are filing our taxes right. We go to church to learn how to follow God more closely. It is always a good idea to look for the best source when trying to make decisions in our lives.

The problem with the argument many of these articles are putting forth is that they are making a very important assumption:

People with more formal education are more knowledgeable, more intelligent, or "smarter" than those without. Therefore they are wiser counselors when making decisions.

What I would like to address is why this assumption is not only wrong, but can cause many issues.


What we are looking for in our decision makers is not knowledge, it is wisdom.

Gaining wisdom is much more than gaining knowledge.

Gaining wisdom takes time and looking at many viewpoints with an open mind to find the best solutions, often this means changing your previous views and opinions.

There are many ways of gaining knowledge and none of them are the exclusive way to gain wisdom.

Different ways of gaining knowledge have their positives and negatives when trying to turn that knowledge into wisdom.

Summary Conclusion:

Formal education has many shortcomings when it comes to gaining wisdom. Not to say that it is unimportant or not useful, but looking for the wisest people shouldn't exclude any form of learning and formal education is definitely not a requirement for wisdom.

What we are looking for in our decision makers is not knowledge, it is wisdom.

Why is the assumption wrong? Well simply put, we don't just want knowledgeable people we want wise people.

Wise people not only have a lot of knowledge, but they know how to use it effectively. They are humble and open-minded. They change their opinions based on the new knowledge they receive instead of clinging to old ways of thinking, or being swayed by the latest popular opinions.

These are the people we want to listen to.

Gaining wisdom is much more than gaining knowledge.

So what's the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

Well let's start with the basics. When we we are exposed to information in the world around us we start making connections. These connections turn basic information into useful knowledge. But to turn that into wisdom we need to go one step further. We need to take the knowledge and start making connections with experiences that we, or other people have with that knowledge. This turns that knowledge into wisdom.

Gaining wisdom takes time and looking at many viewpoints with an open mind to find the best solutions, often this means changing your previous views and opinions.

This also requires that you make your own decisions guided by the knowledge and wisdom you already have and the new knowledge and information that you are constantly gaining. You are not guided by long held beliefs with no basis or popular ideas and opinions.

There are many ways of gaining knowledge.


We live in an amazing time in history. We have the internet. This amazing invention connects everyone in the world to each other!

One of the huge benefits to this is the free flow of information, good and bad. You can learn almost anything you want from very good sources from the comfort of your couch! This information is not always true and the hardest part of this form of learning is having to sort through and figure out what is true and what is not. But the information is still there!

Books (Including magazines, newspaper, and other widely distributed printed material)

Another huge invention that shaped the world before the internet was the printing press. The printing press made it possible to mass produce books, pamphlets, and so forth. This made it possible for information to spread much quicker.

Today this still applies. There are thousands, millions, of books out there written by experts trying to share their knowledge with the world. It's just a step down from learning at their feet! What if you could have the wisest person you know personally teach you what he thinks are the most important things? Well you can probably find it in a book.

Books have the advantage of barrier to entry. Anyone can write a blog post about any subject, no matter their credibility, at little or no cost. Books however take a lot more time and the process is a lot more stringent. So it is more likely that the information will be good. But that doesn't mean you should let your guard down. As always you will have to sort through what is fact and what is fiction.

Formal Education (Including any form of learning where you are listening to a presenter)

The last great resource I would like to address is formal education.

Formal education is an extremely good resource, you are almost always getting high grade information, you are learning from experts with at least theoretical knowledge and in some cases, actual experience (wisdom). The downside is you get a limited amount of viewpoints and it is usually expected that you take what is taught as absolute truth.

You also get to rub shoulders with many like minded people and get one on one answers to questions.

Formal Education has the highest barrier to entry. To get an idea to be taught you need a pretty wide consensus. This is good because that means the information is probably good because it is widely accepted, but it can be bad when the system doesn't like new information and therefore suppresses it.


  • High grade information, usually from experts in at least theoretical knowledge.
  • Social connections with other like minded people and said experts.
  • Highest barrier to entry. Getting a text book into a university or an idea to take root with all the professors is difficult, thus weeding out a lot of useless information.


  • Often you are expected to take whatever is taught as absolute truth. Any contrary thought is at best ridiculed and at worst punished with bad grades.
  • Highest barrier to entry. Once an idea begins being taught it is very difficult to root out misinformation. (as you noticed this is a positive and a negative)
  • Partially the same idea as above. Ideologies and philosophies are self perpetuating. Once the majority thinks it is correct anyone who disagrees is seen as uninformed, or not as intelligent and therefore will not get a teaching job, and their textbooks and ideas will not be purchased or used. So once an idea gets root, it is very difficult to change.

Different ways of gaining knowledge have their positives and negatives when trying to turn that knowledge into wisdom.

Difficult to gain high grade information
Easy to analyzing others' experience
Easy to study many different viewpoints

Medium difficulty in gaining high grade information
Difficult to analyzing others' experience
Medium difficulty to study many different viewpoints

Formal Education:
Easy to gain high grade information
Medium difficulty in analyzing others' experience
Difficult to study many different viewpoints


As you can see. If we are looking at just gaining wisdom, formal education is not necessarily the best way. All the different ways of learning are important for gaining wisdom.

Now I don't want anyone to get the impression that I am against formal education. To the contrary I actually think it is an important and amazing resource in our communities.

My argument is to the effect that just because someone doesn't have formal education doesn't automatically make them less wise than someone who has. I know examples of people with formal education that do not read regularly or research on the internet regularly. This might indicate that they are not very wise because they think they already know it all because they got a degree. The moment you think you know it all is the moment you become unwise.

 'If you think you know everything; you know nothing. If you think you know nothing; you know something.'
                         --Jayce O'Neal

So lets not trust our decisions to people that simple have learned some good information in the past. Lets seek out the people that are constantly learning, always trying to better themselves, humbly acknowledging their weaknesses and trying to overcome them.

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