Be Wary Of Learning Many Things (Heraclitus!)

Be Wary Of Learning Many Things (Heraclitus!) June 10, 2019

Wisdom cannot be Googled.

As a kid growing up, I did not have Google, but a public library and the World Book. There was a good side to my inability to Google, even if it meant finding a full list of Star Trek The Original Series Episodes was hard. My brother and I were interested in everything (not opera, that came later) and that meant, if we were not careful, we kept binge reading everything while mastering nothing: one week the Russian Revolution, the next the Underground Railroad, the following the planets (9!).

For better or worse, one would start out to look up something in the encyclopedia, say Astronomy, and end up fascinated (for a day or so) with Agriculture  . . . There was a whole month where we knew that hydroponics was our future and maybe the future of Earth!

I cannot imagine how distracted we would have been with Google. We could come to the end of a topic in World Book and even in our decent suburban library, but there is no end to the Internet. I might still be hopping from topic to topic: binging on facts. School taught us better. We listened to experts and tried to find a tiny slice of the world where we could become expert if we could. Our teachers and parents showed us learning should never stop.**


There was a good side to our childlike curiosity, but nobody ever confused what we “learned” with expertise or more importantly with wisdom. If all our teachers and parents had taught us was to settle down to hard work and learn something carefully, that would have been good, but would not have gotten us one step closer to wisdom.

You cannot get to wisdom by learning to refine your Google searches.

Knowing, retaining, and organizing all the facts on a topic does not tell a mind what to do with those facts or how I should live in the light of those facts.

Wisdom is not expertise in a narrower collection of facts.

255 The learning of many things does not teach understanding; if it did, it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, and again Xenophanes and Hecataeus.*

So said Heraclitus, one of the first people to be given the title “philosopher.” He marked the vital turn in thought away from polytheism toward monotheism that made philosophy and all the sciences possible.

Heraclitus pointed to education. My Nana knew fewer facts than I did, but was wise. She took the facts she had, and was always learning new ones, and combined them with Christianity and learned. She did not learn many things or even many things about one thing, but she developed a profound understanding about a few things.

One often meets lovers of learning things that know many things, but have a childish understanding of what they have learned. Heraclitus was right: no matter how many truths we stack up in our minds, we will not gain wisdom. Wisdom must be congruent with the facts, but wisdom is not the facts. I have known actors who never became very good because they could say the words in Hamlet with no real understanding. Of course, our friends who are great actors know and understand. 

Early in my life (God forgive me) I knew the words of the Bible, but I did not understand them. That was knowledge, but not wisdom. We have all seen people who knew the Bible, quoted the Bible, but did not know the God the Bible was showing. This is why even something as (generally) good as reading has limits. Stop reading if it is time to gain understanding.

Stop Googling, reading, pause, think about it, discuss it with good friends: how then should we live?

A weary lover of wisdom said:

12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.


* Kirk, Raven, Schofield.  PreSocratic Philosophers. Kindle Edition.

**My parents (and most of my teachers) meant one should keep reading, staying up to date with what was happening, and other good things. They did not mean endless learning of facts (just in a more refined area) was good . . . But I heard people in edutainment who sounded that way!



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