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Achievement: 2) Knowledge & wisdom



A cubic metre of water has a mass of about 1,000 kilograms. The sun's equatorial radius is about 109 times that of Earth. The average hummingbird beats its wings around 80 times per second. Tokyo has been the capital of Japan since 1868. Sugarcane is the most produced crop by mass. The Beatles have five asteroids named after them. Human DNA is partially derived from ancient viruses. Cheesecake has been around since at least the 5th century BCE. All the gold in the world mined to date would fit inside a cube of 22 metres side length. I don't own any pink socks. You're welcome.


Knowledge. Chances are that you have a bit more of it now than before you started reading this article. You may not have wanted to know everything in the above, and you may not remember any or all of those points for all time, but for now you have some fresh data forging neural connections whether you like it or not. Some points may be more useful than others. Who knows, you may find yourself on a quiz show one day, and the jackpot question just might be about the history of cheesecake. You knock the question out of the park. The audience gasps in amazement, the presenter is stunned, and you go home with a healthier bank balance than ever before. And you write me a cheque, of course. Until then, you know what to get for my birthday.


We could keep going, listing fact after fact after fact, data about this and that, numbers, names, dates, places. And yet, for all of that, are we getting any smarter? At what point does knowing something actually improve intelligence? If knowledge in and of itself was the stuff of smartness, then after reading the first paragraph of this article you would have instantly become an improved human being. Again, you're welcome. But, I bet you don't feel that way, even if every tidbit of info was completely new to you, even if you remember every last shred of it all the way to the very last crossword at the far edge of time. Two-down, five letters, an Asian capital city from 1868.


Knowledge is but one component of what may be called intelligence. Furthermore, there are many kinds of knowledge, and many kinds of intelligence. An orangutan couldn't care less about the best performing stocks this quarter, but may know exactly where the best fruit is in the forest, and what way the tigers usually roam at this time of day. Glancing down at the crashed truck of the adventuring stock broker far below, they shrug and swing along on their way to supper, as a flash of golden orange is glimpsed off in the bushes.


The most relevant knowledge for the moment, used and applied appropriately, is the making of wisdom. You may know all there is to know about heart disease, a true world renowned expert lecturing far and wide on the topic, medical students lining up around the block for you to autograph their treasured copy of your seminal textbook. But you enjoy a treat or two despite yourself, and are just too damn fond of those fried chicken waffle sandwiches with barbecue sauce and honey mayonnaise. No lettuce, thank you very much. Curly fries, yes please, thanks Janet. Yeah we were here on Saturday too, good to see you again. You weren't on last Tuesday, no? Didn't see you then. Well, thanks for the order, see you Friday. Perhaps.


Oh professor, fount of knowledge you may be, but wisdom, in this case maybe not. To know something is never enough. It must be applied, well and effectively, to demonstrate intelligence. Knowledge comes with study, either condensed and active, or diffuse and passive. Just living life is a form of study, and can increase the amount of knowledge you have, simply by an increase of opportunities to acquire it. That certainly doesn't guarantee knowledge of a certain kind, but typically does for others.


A young and ambitious student may tear through their study material, absorbing everything in their wake, gliding through those exams as if it they'd discovered it all on their own. It's not impossible to be young and know more about certain things than someone much older, perhaps even having a greater net total of concealed trivia, ready to deploy at any lurking examiner. But how many friends have they seen come and go? How many jobs have altered their perception of how the world works in practice? Do they know the joy of deep love, or the pain of deep loss? Some knowledge simply can't be read. And although a long life doesn't deliver the same experiences and understanding to everyone, and certainly not in any kind of rational order, it does increase the likelihood of certain things being encountered, sooner or later. The books of life, as it were, read differently for us all. But those tomes are never without overlap.


That's not to say that age equals wisdom either. The accumulation of certain types of knowledge is certainly given a better chance with age, but here again we meet our old frienemy luck dealing the cards, neither equal in quantity or quality for all players. And when everyone is sitting at the table considering their chips, those with the most or the best cards don't necessarily play the best game. That comes down to skill, to knowledge put into practice as wisdom. Were you paying attention when the rules were read out? Have you really grasped how the game is played in practice as well as in theory? Did you have your senses fully open when others were playing, before you took a seat at the table, or were you idly looking around the room ... or did you perhaps have your nose stuck in an interesting book of facts? They may not help you here, in the game. But then again, they might. We must always play both strategies simultaneously - both stocking up and taking stock of our knowledge, condensing, interpolating, extrapolating, to the point where we simply intuit.


For what else is intuition than unconsciously preprocessed knowledge pushing us one way or another? Everyone has intuition, which is, in some sense, a kind of default wisdom, and which can even be strong enough to override a better and more rational judgement at times, despite whatever knowledge supports that judgement. Intuition is the ingrained feeling that enough knowledge has been dealt with ahead of time, that the subconscious has applied its best tools in dissecting it and tying it all together, pulling those internal levers in just such a way as to make its opinion known.


But that process happens regardless of the amount of input, and so it is that those with little real knowledge of a field may still feel they have a valid opinion about it. Yes, you can certainly have an opinion, but that's not to say it's particularly valid. And yes, the opinion of someone else even with more knowledge may actually be further from the truth, by some difference in the skill of being able to process that knowledge, and by luck. But odds are that's not the case. Perhaps one of the truest tests of wisdom is simply knowing how to play the odds, which is something that only improves with experience, either condensed or dispersed over time, as long as appropriate attention is paid to it.


Paying enough attention to the flow of information, enough to form the best opinions about it, is not easy. Anything which isn't easy requires focus and dedication to do well. And we cannot be focussed or dedicated if we don't care, if we don't desire, if we don't have the will to understand the game and all of its pieces, and to give it our best shot. From the smallest comment to the grandest proclamation, and the actions based on them, every statement is a statement of intent, a claim that we are interested, paying attention, trying to understand, and that we are ultimately worth listening to. That's not to say that our voices should be loud enough to drown out others, but rather loud enough to find others they are in harmony with. At the crux of it all, to be able to know and to understand, to aim for wisdom and skill, simply comes down to having the will to play the game at all.

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