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Is knowledge the same as wisdom?

May 7, 2008

I decided to have a lazy weekend last week and did some catching up on the History Channel. I like those programs about ancient civilizations – stories of how they rise to glorious heights and then vanish almost overnight. Whether its the Romans or the Aztechs, the Chinese or the Egyptians, the story is always the same. They rack up some spectacular knowledge to build amazing structures, whip up fantastic tools and systems to improve life and yet when the time comes, they vanish without a trace.

What’s unsettling about it is the fact that all my ancestors had been drumming on knowledge (=education) like its the ticket to the future and here I am, learning how one by one, civilizations go poof at their technological peak. So how? Is knowledge the ticket to the future or not?

I guess life is not that simple. Most human knowledge can already be googled off the internet. It can be fed into robots who can help us create lifestyles that kick ass but will we be better off? I don’t think so. Something is missing.

Ever played tic-tac-toe? If you have, you’ll know its one of those games you can never win. You can use all your knowledge to set up your strategy but when you tally the scores, you always end with a stalemate. War, the main cause of death for many ancient civilizations, is a lot like tic-tac-toe. When you move first, you win and when the other side moves first, they win. When all is said and done, neither side wins.

In the game of tic-tac-toe, knowledge helps you decide the best opening moves but wisdom – it will tell you not to play because deep down you already know the score.

The ancients had the knowledge to build super weapons and encircle the enemy. They didn’t have the wisdom to foresee that the event will lead to a no-win situation and even extinction. Or maybe they did and they said, “No problem!” What’s interesting is, how many games of tic-tac-toe do we play in our life?

Trust my ancestors to leave it to my own devices that I should not confuse knowledge with wisdom.

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