Seek wisdom, not knowledge

Seek wisdom, not knowledge

‘The Glass Darkly’ was the translation of Corinthians 1 that I was taught and I rather enjoyed the thought of it. Seeing through a “glass darkly” had an appeal of adventure, exploration, illicit expedition even. The idea that I should then know everything was shockingly exciting. Even at a tender age I Knew What That Meant. The additional prospect of being fully known myself was a little daunting but what the hell – in for a penny, in for a pound.

The years relegated the glass darkly to its proper place, still an intriguing thought but less a reality. And then came the internet. I first learnt about Google in a ploughed field out walking. A friend asked if I had heard of it. I hadn’t. Suddenly it was as if the Glass Darkly had been transformed into a Window. As indeed it had. It was quite difficult to adapt to the idea.

‘My bucket of knowledge runneth over’, might be today’s Corinthians. There is more of it than we can handle. We do not even begin to know how to marshal, assess and use it. ‘Un embarras de richesses’ the French might say. It allows us to devote our time to inventing rather than simply catching up. It has made us busier than ever. And possibly more stupid.

The first person to use a fire torch to explore a cave was so excited at seeing everything brilliantly lit that he forgot to mark his route, lost his way and died in darkness. To go forward without knowing where you come from or how to get back there isn’t very bright. It is what we are doing today. We think the light of innovation is all we need to make progress. In practice the light tells us where we are. We need history to remember where we have come from and creativity to apply it to where we want to go. Combined, the two equal wisdom.

Are we forgetting that we have choice? Is technology driving our journey so relentlessly that we must follow where it leads even if that is to extinction? Is Artificial Intelligence a test of our ability to be self-controlled? The irony of our being more in charge of our destiny than hitherto but, in practice, less clear about what we are aiming for is bewildering. It’s like being given the car of your desires without knowing where any road leads to.

At her recent talk on The Fear of Death, Dr Catherine Lim explained how the certainty of now was only made into reassurance for the future by purpose. While faith provides a vision for some – and what it proclaims may, indeed, be a possibility – the here and now is the only certainty. Interesting that even the prayers of the most devotedly faithful supplicate for “now and at the our of our death” – the only two times of which we can be certain.

But the certainty of now can be a selfish concept, by itself unsuitable for those who seek to help devise a better world. For them the wisdom of lasting values is the sure way to provide a legacy for succeeding generations. Those values determine the use to which technology will be put, the balance between the benefits of new inventions and the liabilities they bring with them. Every drug has side effects, every development risks humankind’s future.

The rush to ‘develop’ has left us forgetting to ask ‘why?’ At it’s simplest we created mechanical devices to avoid having to do heavy lifting. The resultant obesity forced us to created gymnasia in which to exercise off the now excess weight caused by – lack of exercise. While this demonstrates a certain intriguing economic circularity it can also be thought of as somewhat daft. The physical work for which millions of years prepared the race is now unnecessary. Something must take it’s place. Soon the gymnasia that have done so will be harnessed to produce the electric power that saves us heavy lifting. If we are wise.

Development is neutral. The looming prospect of almost free, unlimited power can be for good or for bad. If we do not have the wisdom to see what this development threatens, even as it’s brings new benefits, we shall destroy our heritage.

May the young, as well as the old, use some of their leisure time to studying wisdom. If they do, Homo Sapiens’ story will take a turn for the better.

I thank great-grandson Bennie,
and his parents, Zoey and Jacob,
for his ‘study in wisdom’ picture
at the head of this article.