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January 09, 2006

Dangerous Idea: Knowledge is not the basis of Wisdom

The Edge magazine's question for 2006 is: What is your dangerous idea?

It says: The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?

Read the dangerous ideas of leading thinkers here.

Here is my dagerous idea:

Knowledge is not the basis of Wisdom

I borrowed this idea from my colleague Dr. Prasad Kaipa who has spent 15 years working with some of the best industry leaders and thinkers to help them become better leaders and innovators. I am beginning to see that knowledge is not the basis of wisdom. This notion is dangerous in two ways: 1) Most important national and global level decisions are based on knowledge and billons of dollars are spent each year in the creation, storing, protecting, structuring and dissemination of knowledge � all in the belief that knowledge is the basis for wise decisions and actions. 2) Without sufficient understanding of what gives raise to wisdom and the practices to develop it, abandoning knowledge could create terrible chaos and fear.

Wisdom, I am beginning to see, is rooted in perspective. The way I look at something pretty much decides the kind of knowledge, intelligence, emotions and resources accessible to me. For example, if I strongly believe in Creationism that says that God created the world in seven days, then evolutionary theory is not accessible to me regardless of how much of it, how fast and how conveniently it might be available to me.

How I look at something, my perspective, is made possible by where I come from. That is, the intentions and attitudes with which I engage with a person or situation makes certain perspectives available to me and blocks certain other perspectives. If I am unaware of my intentions and attitudes, it means that I am letting my autopilot behavior (that stems from past knowledge) decide what intentions and attitudes I hold at a given time. If my limited knowledge decides my intentions and attitudes, it will only lead to more of the same kind of knowledge. But if I consciously choose my intentions and attitudes, I can be free from my past knowledge and can volitionally hold higher intentions and attitudes (like love, compassion, generosity etc) even if don�t fully know or understand what they are. Such high intentions allow or open up new perspectives that are tremendously creative, seemingly dangerous and highly beneficial � in other words, wise.

That which allows higher perspectives cannot be based on human beings� limited knowledge. It can only be based on our collective experience and trust in the universal intelligence. Our collective experience tells us over and over again that greed and violence are highly destructive; and love and compassion are highly constructive. Nature tells us that everything is connected to everything else and co-existence and cooperation are the strategies that have worked well for millions of years. We may not have fully researched, experimented, analyzed and created accurate knowledge about our own collective experience and about the ways of nature but that need not stop us from choosing the higher perspectives that our collective experience and nature have taught us.

Experience is stronger than knowledge and nature�s intelligence is stronger than experience. So, at least for now, the path to wisdom does not seem to be through language and numbers and hence, �the knowledge worker� could be the most dangerous human species yet.

Posted by Ragu at January 9, 2006 05:03 PM