Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Perils Of Wisdom

In seeking wisdom thou art wise, in imagining that thou hast attained it thou art a fool.

Simon ben Azzai
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The more I know, the less I know. The less I know, the more I want to know. It's a syndrome. But I'd rather be addicted to learning things than to drink, drugs or some other self destructive entity.

I have known a lot of people who are called "accidental scholars." I used to be one of them. Those are people who flit carelessly through life and every now and then stumble over a fact or a concept.

Some folks want to know why I don't do the traditional retired man's things. I don't really have an answer to that except to say that I enjoy poking my nose into books and pouring over magazines. And I have no other motive for doing it than that I enjoy it.

I suppose I am getting wiser. But there are some dangers in this humanoid version of gaining wisdom. We can gang up on ourselves if we're not careful. When an interesting fact or a refreshed way of looking at an old fact occurs there is the threat of thinking that now we really know something. That is taking the wrong exit off the highway. One bit of knowledge should lead to another. Why do we stop pursuing it? Because the second stretch of highway seems so much longer than the first. It's a discouragement until we realize that it may have taken us much longer than we thought to obtain the first bit. Seeking and finding wisdom is not an easy task. Information leads to knowledge, which should in turn lead to understanding, and that might draw us, if we're lucky, into some degree of wisdom. But then there's a recipe involved. It is up to the thinking person, or one who thinks he is a thinking person, to mix one bit of wisdom with another, stir and put in the oven of time and see what comes out. Is it a pie, a Pi or a piece of garbage? Reckoning with what you have is good and proper until you need more.

Another danger is to rely for your self esteem on what you know and be satisfied with it. You may think your are impressing other people with your wisdom but all you're doing is playing hand ball into a mirror. Some actors get tangled in that game. They think they have figured out how to play a certain type of role and so instead of starting from the beginning to understand a specific character they just repeat themselves.

Then there's the danger of anti intellectualism which rears its ugly, hissing head or hops like a smelly toad out of the strangest places. I knew an actor who, when he came to visit one day, saw a book on calculus sitting on my desk. He thought it wasn't mine. When I said it was he wanted to know why I was reading it. He disbelieved that I had any interest in the subject. Why wasn't I reading books on acting? Why, I thought? I'm a working actor, I do theatre day after day, I don't have to read about it. I'm interested in knowing about other things. He decided I was just trying to impress people. I didn't carry the book around with me and I didn't discuss mathematics with anyone. I fail to see why he thought my attempts to understand rectilinear motion was impressing anyone.

Now about impressing people. I knew a sweet man named Mr Bixbee who was deprived of a formal education from which he suffered a sense of inferiority. He compensated for it by claiming a familiarity with the great literature of the world which he didn't have. He wouldn't talk about the books except to say that he read them. I felt a bit sorry for him that he had to live that pretense. He wasn't a stupid man. There was a whole world of wisdom available to him if he would just open one of those books and begin to read it.

The gaining of wisdom is not a tortoise and hare race. The finish line is so far ahead of all of us that our positions along the way are only relative. In fact, I don't think there is a finish line, and that's what makes it so interesting to me. No matter how much we know there is always more. Nature and the universe pour more information on us then we are prepared to accept. And it will always be that way. Forever.

DB - The Vagabond
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WINTER QUESTION
(This is not a contest)

What was the most significant event that happened in 2010?

dbdacoba@aol.com

Only 2 responses so far

I await your answer.
DB
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4 comments:

Beth said...

There is no shame in saying "I don't know." If we can't understand that we don't know, how is it we are going to learn?

pacifica62 said...

The way I see it, knowledge helps you to make a living and wisdom helps you to make a life. Wisdom goes so much further than our education level. Albert Einstein said "Wisdom is not a product of schooling, but of a lifelong attempt to acquire it". db, I know that you question and you doubt and that is surely the path to becoming wise.

Cabrylla Van Howe said...

Wisdom is not the information that we know. It is the mistakes we have made and the achievements that we have accomplished throughout life; the things that we learn from them. The people we encounter, each and everyone of them, contribute to that pool of wisdom. It is knowing the ways of the world, how people are in our world. The understanding of simplicity, and knowing the complexity of that simplicity. Wisdom is being able to be analytical and critical of people and situations, to gain a better understanding of them. How one thing affects another. The asking of questions, well thought out and not, is wise. We don't learn wisdom, we gain it. We cannot learn it from a textbook book, we achieve it through life. That is my opinion of wisdom.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

I'm thinking about drinking, is that bad :o)