Orphaned Knowledge

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” 

Albert Einstein

I sometimes think we have a strange relationship with knowledge. We fetishise it, celebrate it, certify it and reward it, but for the most part, don’t use it very well.

We can look at a flower, deconstruct it to its component structures, analyse the surface tensions of the water drops on it and consider the job done. Knowledge becomes an end in itself.

But surely, knowledge has an intermediate quality? If we accept that knowledge is infinite and that we will only access a small and incomplete part of it, then it is the curiosity that directs us to it that is at the core of our purpose. Thus, the whole purpose of knowledge is to form a continuous and self-reinforcing loop with our curiosity.

Despite that, our education and training approaches for the most part, discourage curiosity. Instead, we take knowledge and wring every last drop of commercial value from it. Curiosity plays havoc with hierarchies and leadership structures and undermines the authority of power. For those in power, curiosity is a real challenge. We may say warm words about creativity and innovation, but we want it to behave nicely.

Knowledge gives us skills, and skills are the tools we can use to turn curiosity into action and turn the results into yet more knowledge.

The trouble with knowledge is that it is not linear. Curiosity has a habit of uncovering exciting things other than what we are looking for, 

yet we often ignore them because we are focused on something else. We ignore the diamonds we find whilst mining for tin. Our curiosity defines our personal world, and without it, we end up with something much smaller than is available to us.

Iain McGilchrist suggests the business of the cosmos is to individuate without compromising wholeness. To understand that whatever we know is part of something greater that we do not. 

As we face the challenges we do, I think we would do well to remember that. To balance the power of our current knowledge, skills and abilities with the humility to recognise what we do not, the powerful “unknown unknowns,” and harness our curiosity to peer into those unknowns.

Assuming we can fix what we believe will happen with what we know is a particularly pernicious form of hubris. 

Knowledge has a purpose and needs the company of curiosity to pursue it.

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