Know Stuff

Learn a new thing every day, and get a little smarter every day.

Kids love learning knew things and showing off how smart they are. (not only kids.) but are they smarter, or only more knowlegdable?

I believe that smartness can be developed, and a primary contributor to learned smartness is vast knowledge. I have come across people who may not have had the highest IQ, but who were able to share a good amount of wisdom based on their accumulated knowledge and experience. I have also encountered many people who had pretty powerful brains but lacked knowledge, and this was painfully reflected in their decisions.

There are of course people with knowledge well in excess of their wisdom. These are a most difficult sort of people, who believe they know everything and understand everything, yet they know little and understand nothing. Knowledge itself does not confer wisdom.

Knowledge is a raw material. Perhaps it is as gasoline, which by itself is worthless, but in the fuel tank it can take you far. Knowledge can contribute a great deal to wisdom and general smartness, but simply amassing facts, with no thought and no consideration, is no different than pumping gas without having a fuel tank to pump it into. It will only make intellectual muck.

Smartness is our ability to draw conclusions from a given set of disparate facts. Even raw knowledge can often serve as intelligence as it broadens the set of available information we have at our disposal. A general who knows where the enemy is is not smarter than the one who does not, but he will make better decisions. His knowledge serves in the place of intellect, allowing him to reach better conclusions.

This use of knowledge is more common but less noticed when dealing with the knowledge of expected outcomes, such as the knowledge of expected psychological responses. Someone who knows how people are expected to react to him will do much better in dealing with them than someone without the knowledge. The first is not smarter, but he will always be seen as smarter than others, while the socially clueless person is said to be stupid. His decisions are stupid, but they reflect a lack of relevant knowledge rather than a lack of intellect.

General knowledge is rarely directly useful. Its value is in the wider perspective it gives in how all the disparate elements of the world fit together. Each piece of raw knowledge is like a little puzzle piece from a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. As the little pieces slowly start to collect a picture starts to slowly emerge. The picture may never be finished, and you may never be sure just what it is a picture of, but you can tell there is a picture there, and have spome sense of what elements will be part of it, and what elements have no place there. Obviously if someone collects puzzle pieces in a box they are not doing a puzzle and they gain nothing from their collection of puzzle pieces. It is only if they pay attention to how pieces fit together – however incomplete their puzzle is initially – that each peice makes a tiny contribution to their grasp of the larger picture, and makes them a little bit smarter.

As we collect and sort information we learn thought patterns which help us form a mental image of how things go together. This is not a mental image we can articulate. It is more of a thought-pattern which can be applied anywhere, and we do not need to know how to describe the way we think. A simple example is the knowledge that lions eat zebras. A raw piece of knowledge with no practical value, except for zebras and lion hunters. But it gives us a slightly bigger picture also. Ideas of predator and prey. Ecological balance. Biological preparedness. Fitness for purpose.

When we gather and sort out knowledge, we train ourselves to identify the underlying concepts and logic which holds everything together. When we afterwards are faced with any decision these concepts will play a part in how we interpret our available information, how we identify important and trivial aspects of the problem, how we judge possible outcomes, and how fast we can draw these conclusions. It makes us smarter.

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