On Wisdom, Knowledge, and Ignorance


Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness. Sophocles

To be a philosopher is to recognize the True, to desire the Beautiful, to establish the Good. This is wisdom; all else is folly. George Santayana

It requires wisdom to understand wisdom; the music is nothing if the audience is deaf. Walter Lippmann

Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences. Norman Cousins

That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another. -Adlai Stevenson

Pessimism is only the name that men of weak nerve give to wisdom. MARK TWAIN

Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children. Kahlil Gibran, 'Mirrors of the Soul'

It's amazing how much ``mature wisdom'' resembles being too tired., Robert Heinlein, Notebooks of Lazarus Long

He that thinks himself the wisest is generally the least so. C. C. Colton

Be very slow to believe that you are wiser than all others; it is a fatal but common error. Where one has been saved by a true estimation of another's weakness, thousands have been destroyed by false appreciation of their own strength. Charles C. Colton

More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly. Woody Allen

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle. Their wisdom was unfathomable. There is no way to describe it; all we can describe is their appearance.

Knowledge and Wisdom

Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification. Martin H. Fischer

We can be Knowledgeable with other men's knowledge, but we cannot be wise with other men's wisdom. Michel de Montaigne

Wisdom is knowledge which has become a part of one's being. Orison S. Marden

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? T.S. Eliot, The Rock

If I don't have wisdom, I can teach you only ignorance. Leo Buscaglia

"Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before," Bokonon tells us. "He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way." Kurt Vonnegut, "Cat's Cradle"

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it--and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit on a hot stove lid again--and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore. Mark Twain

Knowledge is not a loose-leaf notebook of facts. Above all, it is a responsibility for the integrity of what we are, primarily of what we are as ethical creatures. J. Bronowski

Knowledge Leads to Wisdom

To know that you know what you know, and that you do not know what you do not know, that is true wisdom. Confucious

If thou art able, O stranger, to find out all these things and gather them together in your mind, giving all the relations, thou shalt depart crowned with glory and knowing that thou hast been adjudged perfect in this species of wisdom. Anon, In Ivor Thomas "Greek Mathematics" in J. R. Newman (ed.) The World of Mathematics, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956.

I don't think it would have all got me down quite so much if just once in a while- just once in a while- there was at least some polite little perfunctory implication that knowledge should lead to wisdom, and that if it doesn't, it's just a disgusting waste of time. J.D. Salinger, Franny & Zooey

Knowledge becomes wisdom only after it has been put to practical use. Anon

Confusing Knowledge and Wisdom

In our age... men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, and to try to solve problems of life in terms of engineering. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Ours in a data-rich and information-poor society.... Although the body of science and technology and the population of the world have both grown exponentially in the last two hundred and fifty years, wisdom, perception, and other individual traits have not. Martin Shubik

Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life. Sandra Carey

Attaining Wisdom

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. Confucius

Wisdom is found only by constant practice in pure thinking and well-doing; by harmonizing one's mind and heart to those things which are beautiful, lovable and true. James Allen

Lovers of wisdom must be inquirers into very many things indeed. Heraclitus

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. Henry David Thoreau

The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms. Socrates (470-399 B.C.)

The man who knows how will always have a job; the man that knows why will always be his boss.

Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk. Doug Larson

The fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other. Edward R Murrow, 1965

The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook. William James

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom. Theodore Isaac Rubin

I gave myself to know wisdom.... I perceived that this is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:17-8

Wise Men and Fools

The wise man questions the wisdom of others because he questions his own, the foolish man, because it is different from his own. Leo Stein, Journey into the Self

Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something. Plato

As it is the characteristic of great wits to say much in few words, so small wits seem to have the gift of speaking much and saying nothing. La Rochefoucauld

I have always observed that to succeed in the world one should seem a fool, but be wise. Baron de Montesquieu, Pensees diverses

A wise man sees as much as he ought, not as much as he can. Montaigne

Even a fool knows you can't touch the stars, but it doesn't stop a wise man from trying. Harry Anderson, "Night Court"

To be a man of knowledge one needs to be light and fluid. Yaqui Mystic, Little Zen Companion, Schiller.

It is a truly wise man who does not play leap frog with a unicorn.

In seeking wisdom thou are wise; in imagining that thou hast attained it thou are a fool. Rabbi Ben-Azai

Never in any circumstance
Let them induce you to refute.
Wise men fall into ignorance
When with the ignorant they dispute. Goethe II

Wisdom and Experience, Age

Wisdom is meaningless until our own experience has given it meaning, and there is wisdom in the selection of wisdom. Bergen Evans

I think of Koyukon elders, who have spent their lifetimes studying every detail of their natural surroundings, and have combined this with knowledge passed down from generations of elders before them. The more people experience the repetitions of events in nature, the more they see in them and the more they know, but the more they realize the limitation of their understanding. I believe this is why Koyukon people are so humble and self-effacing about their knowledge. And I believe that Koyukon people's extraordinary relationship to their natural community has emerged through this careful watching of the same events in the same place, endlessly repeated over lifetimes and generations and millennia. There may be more to learn by climbing the same mountain a hundred times than by climbing a hundred different mountains. Richard Nelson. "The Island Within"

As you are old and reverend, you should be wise. Shakespeare

At twenty years of age the will reigns; at thirty, the wit; and at forty, the judgment. Grattan

The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom. H.L. Mencken

Wisdom and Art

We are all wise. the difference between persons is not in wisdom but in art. Ralph Waldo Emerson

If I knew what the meaning of art was, I wouldn't tell you. Pablo Picasso



On him does death lie heavily who, but too well known to all, dies to himself unknown. Seneca

He who knows the most, he who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Nature

There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge. Bertrand Russell

Knowledge rests on knowledge; what is new is meaningful because it departs slightly from what was known before. Robert Oppenheimer

There are two rules for success in life: 1. Don't tell people everything you know.

Knowledge must be gained by ourselves. Mankind may supply us with the facts; but the results, even if they agree with previous ones, must be the work of our mind. Benjamin Disraeli

All the knowledge I possess everyone can acquire, but my heart is all my own. Goethe

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it. From Boswell, Life of Johnson, April 18, 1775

It's not what you know. It's not who you know. It's what who you know knows. Btanen

Knowledge of mankind is a knowledge of their passions. Benjamin Disraeli

Thirst for Knowledge

The desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it. Sterne

Through zeal, knowledge is gotten, through lack of zeal, knowledge is lost; let a man who knows the double path of gain and loss thus place himself that knowledge may grow. Buddha

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. Bertrand Russell, Autobiography

Memorization is a function of duty; knowledge comes only from love. MacUser magazine (!)

Wonder is the desire for knowledge. St. Thomas Aquinas

Enthusiasm without knowledge is like running in the dark.

Knowledge Serves the Common Good

Any willful cut in our resources of knowledge is an act of self destruction. Daniel J. Boorstin

Knowledge is the only instrument of production that is not subject to diminishing returns. J.M. Clarke

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. Benjamin Franklin

The value of knowledge lies not in its accumulation, but in its utilization.

The great end of life is not knowledge but action. T. H. Huxley

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do. Goethe

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. James Madison

Only one in twenty adults knows enough about science to function effectively as a citizen and consumer when asked to helped formulate public policy about issues like nuclear power or toxic waste. Jon Miller: director of the Public Opinion Laboratory of Northern Illinois U.

A society cannot be both ignorant and free. Thomas Jefferson

Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful. Samuel Johnson

Knowledge is a deadly friend when no-one sets the rules. The fate of all mankind, I see, is in the hands of fools. King Crimson

Organized Knowledge and Meaning

Meaning, not raw facts, is what humanity seeks, and society is a collection of kits or codes for processing raw facts into meaning. Ordering is one of the simplest and most durable human methods for finding or making meaning. Take a variety of things and put them in some kind of relationship, a simple sequence, a taxonomy, a hierarchy, or a cause-and-effect pattern, say, and they make sense, apparently for no better reason than the tautological one that order and relationship are felt by human beings to be meaningful. Alvin Kernan. "The Death of Literature"

Do not become archivists of facts. Try to penetrate to the secret of their occurrence, persistently search for the flaws that govern them. Ivan Pavlov

All knowledge, without exception, is instrumental. In the scientific terms of information theory: information is everywhere, but knowledge can only occur within the ecosystemic context of a goal seeking adaptive system. If this is the case, then we are *required* to ask what the knowledge is being used for and by whom. Anthony Wilden. System and Structure (1972). p. xxii.

Words differently arranged have a different meaning and meanings differently arranged have a different effect. Blaise Pascal, (1623-1662) W. H. Auden and L. Kronenberger (eds.) The Viking Book of Aphorisms, New York: Viking Press, 1966.


By the time a baby born today finishes college, the amount of information available to him will have quadrupled. Guy Murchie, The Seven Mysteries Of Life

Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best! 'the girl from the bus' Joe's Garage. Frank Zappa.

Knowledge vs. Information: an Inverse Relationship

Information anxiety is produced by the ever widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. It is the black hole between data and knowledge.

The more information one has to evaluate, the less one knows. Marshall McLuhan

The so-called knowledge explosion of the past thirty years or so has little to do with knowledge. It has primarily to do with knowledge as a commodity produced by the knowledge industry (Clark Kerr). And like every other form of industrial production in American today, its most significant side-effect is pollution: the pollution of minds. This explosion is an information explosion in the sense that the contemporary organization of the academic establishment depends upon everyone finding something to exchange and communicate in order to obtain funds and to maintain the system. -- Anthony Wilden. System and Structure (1972). p. xxiv.

The frantic concern for recency illustrates, despite protestations to the contrary, the computer-aided triumph of the "empty-receptacle" view of the mind. Date-able knowledge is at the same time data-ble knowledge -- something we collect and store in our heads, like bits of information in a database. Stephen L. Talbott. The Future Does Not Compute. (p. 11)

...the Don Juan corollary: Just as the more one seduces the less one loves, so the more one is informed the less one knows. Kingsley Widmer: Sensibility Under Technology

It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated. Bourne, Alec

The more information one has to evaluate, the less one knows. Marshall McLuhan

Knowledge and Self Aggrandizement

It is easy to spot an informed man -- his opinions are just like your own. Miguel de Unamuno

I do nothing that a man of unlimited funds, superb physical endurance and maximum scientific knowledge could not do. Batman

Knowledge and Authority

Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority. Thomas Huxley


Knowledge and Ignorance

Real knowledge is to know the extent of ones ignorance. Confucius

The first step towards knowledge is to know that we are ignorant. Richard Cecil

The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand. Frank Herbert

I do not pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of . Clarence Darrow

Though science can cause problems, it is NOT by ignorance that we will solve them. Isaac Asimov

We are here and it is now. Further than that, all knowledge is moonshine. H. L. Mencken

I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. Thomas Carlyle

Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge. Kahlil Gibran


Ignorance is bliss. American Proverb

Ignorance is a voluntary misfortune. Nicholas Ling

There's nothing more frightening than ignorance in action.

Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. Will Rogers, philosopher

Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know. Michel de Montaigne

If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?" Thomas Henry Huxley

Ignorance is its own reward.

If you think knowledge is dangerous, try ignorance.

We must view with profound respect the infinite capacity of the human mind to resist the inroads of useful knowledge. Thomas B. Lounsbury

TV news seems to confuse more than it clarifies," the study [by the Center for studies in Communication of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst] summarizes. "Even after controlling for all other variables, we discovered that the correlation between TV watching and knowledge was actually a negative one. Overall, the more TV people watched, the less they knew. The only fact that did not fit in with this pattern was the ability to identify the Patriot missle. this is a sad indictment of television's priorities." They add, "It is extremely distrubing that this public expertise in aspects of military technology is not matched by any clear understanding of the circumstances that lie behind their deployment. Village Voice (3/5/91).

Knowledge, Ignorance and Fear

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Marie Curie

We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them. Titus Livius

Knowledge is the antidote to fear. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin Luther King, Jr Strength to Love (1963)

One of the most frightening things in the Western world, and in this country in particular, is the number of people who believe in things that are scientifically false. If someone tells me that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, in my opinion he should see a psychiatrist. Francis H. C. Crick

We Know Nothing

I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance. Socrates

Till then we shall be content to admit openly, what you (religionists) whisper under your breath or hide in technical jargon, that the ancient secret is a secret still; that man knows nothing of the Infinite and Absolute; and that, knowing nothing, he had better not be dogmatic about his ignorance. And, meanwhile, we will endeavour to be as charitable as possible, and whilst you trumpet forth officially your contempt for our skepticism, we will at least try to believe that you are imposed upon by your own bluster. Leslie Stephen, An Agnostic's Apology

There is a theory that states: "If anyone finds out what the universe is for it will disappear and be replaced by something more bazaarly inexplicable." There is another theory that states: "This has already happened ...." Donald Adams, "Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy"

We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything. Thomas Alva Edison

What we know is not much. What we do not know is immense. Pierre-Simon de Laplace, (1749 - 1827) (Allegedly his last words.) DeMorgan's Budget of Paradoxes.

My knowledge is like a drop in a vast ocean of promise. Tan Sen

No Knowledge Is Complete

The recognition that no knowledge can be complete, no metaphor entire, is itself humanizing. It counteracts fanaticism. It grants even to adversaries the possibility of partial truth, and to oneself the

possibility of error. Alvin Toffler

I don't believe anything. I only know some things to a greater degree of certainty than others. John Ryman, from When Galaxies Collide

So as this only point among the rest remaineth sure and certain, namely, that nothing is certain.... Pliny The Elder

I am not young enough to know everything." Oscar Wilde

Our knowledge is a little island in a great ocean of non-knowledge. Isaac Bashevis Singer

Compared to the pond of knowledge, our ignorance remains atlantic. Indeed the horizon of the unknown recedes as we approach it. Ronald Duncan: The Encyclopaedia of Ignorance

Have you ever noticed how some scientists in neuroscience, when they get to a certain age, want to understand the whole picture, because they are suddenly faced with the possibility that they are going to die and not know? In fact, they are going to die and they are not going to know. So will their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren. That's one of the realities of working in neuroscience - that you're going to go your whole life, and not really understand a heck of a lot more when you're done. Robert Hacht-Nielsen: neural network designer

All the limitative Theorems of metamathematics and the theory of computation suggest that once the ability to represent your own structure has reached a certain critical point, that is the kiss of death: it guarantees that you can never represent yourself totally. Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, Church's Undecidability Theorem, Turing's Halting Problem, Turski's Truth Theorem-- all have the flavour of some ancient fairy tale which warns you that "To seek self-knowledge is to embark on a journey which . . . will always be incomplete, cannot be charted on a map, will never halt, cannot be described." Douglas R. Hofstadter

Is it possible that nothing real or important has yet been seen or known or said? Is it possible that mankind has had thousands of years in which to observe, reflect, and record, and has allowed these millenia to slip past, like a recess interval at school in which one eats one's sandwich and an apple? Yes, it is possible. Is it possible that every individual has had to be reminded that he is indeed sprung from all those who have gone before, that he has known this and ought not to have been persuaded differently by others? Yes it is possible. Rainer Maria Rilke: The Journal of My Other Self

As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious. William Durant

Any two philosophers can tell each other all they know in two hours. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

I don't know

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn't know. (Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi [1883], ch. 6)

It wasn't until late in life that I discovered how easy it is to say 'I don't know'." W. Somerset Maugham

The value of the average conversation could be enormously improved by the constant use of four simple words: "I do not know." Andre Maurois

I am not ashamed to confess that I am ignorant of what I do not know. Marcus T. Cicero

Is knowledge knowable? If not, how do we know this? Woody Allen

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