Knowledge and Wisdom

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Before we start to talk about knowledge and wisdom, it will be necessary for us to have a clear idea of what they are all about. To my way of thinking, knowledge is what we all know about things, physical and spiritual, either by learning, experience or research. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines knowledge as the information, skills, and understanding you have gained through learning or experience. Wisdom may be defined as a high mental capacity to weigh all pros and cons of any matter or issue without any partiality, on which an intelligent and wise decision or judgment can be found.
Knowledge itself may be classified into three kinds: general knowledge and scientific knowledge. General knowledge is the information we have acquired about general matters through education or experience to enable us to carry on the day-to-day business of living. Of course, general knowledge may comprise knowledge concerning professions, such as law, accounting, medicine, computing, engineering, etc. This kind of specialized knowledge may be gained by undergoing respective courses of study at the universities and other higher-learning institutes. To my way of thinking, all this knowledge is geared to providing us with the means of making our livelihood comfortably throughout our lives. It will also save us much of the trouble of struggling the hard way against many odds to maintain a decent standard of living. It need not be overemphasized that it is most important for young men in the first period of their life to try their best to acquire the kind of professional knowledge that will equip them to land good high-paying jobs, thereby enabling them to enjoy high standards of living when they enter the second period of their life spanning from the age of 25 to 50 years.
On the other hand, there is scientific knowledge which is the understanding we have developed about specific matters or nature through enquiry by scientific means or through research. Therefore, it is obvious that it takes greater efforts and more time to acquire scientific knowledge than general knowledge which we can easily pick up while going about our daily business or reading all the books under the sun on various subjects. There is no doubt that scientific knowledge is of far greater importance to us than general knowledge. The reason why is not far to seek. Scientific knowledge has enabled us to enjoy higher living standards than our forefathers of by-gone days. The modern facilities we now possess in the way of motorcars, commercial jet planes, high-speed trains, ships, and a wide range of consumer goods would never be possible without scientific knowledge. Unless we had had these modern facilities, we would have never risen above the level of stone-age people, struggling hard for our living by hunting and fishing. It would be very difficult to travel from one country to another across the vast expenses of the oceans. Even if it were possible, it would have taken months to cross the oceans by ship, instead of hours we now spend to travel by air to other countries around the world. Also advances in medical sciences have wiped out or minimized the dangers of killer diseases like malaria, plague, cancer, heart disease, etc. Thanks to these scientific advances in medicine, our present life span has been stretched to as long as 75 years of age on the average.
But here a note of caution needs to be struck. Don’t praise scientific knowledge sky high. Why? Because it has its own negative side. As we all know, it has created a wide range of terrible destructive weapons to the detriment of the human race. To top it all, over the years scientists have developed the ultimate  weapons of mass destruction—the hydrogen and neutron bombs—which can wipe out the whole human race off the surface of the earth, and under the shadow of which all mankind has now to live fearfully. Aside from those terrible mega bombs, all sorts of conventional arms have been developed by the armaments industries of the advanced countries and they find their way into the hands of racial or religious groups who are in conflicts with one another through the arms merchants, who are out to exploit for their own economic benefit the unstable situations of the regions where armed or racial conflicts are being waged relentlessly every day. All these are the outcome of the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
It won’t be wrong to say that there has been a tremendous increase in knowledge, especially in the field of science, down through the centuries. However, no such parallel increase in wisdom has been observed. The reason why is not far to seek. Think of the past two World Wars mankind has gone through as well as small wars being fought one nation against another, to say nothing of armed clashes between one racial group and another all over the world. If only mankind had possessed enough wisdom and applied it appropriately, the world wars and armed clashes and conflicts that have brought nothing but much misery and suffering to the people could have been avoided, thereby saving millions of lives and properties. Now wisdom has a crucial role to play in this turbulent world. It is up to us to use wisdom intelligently to make decisions on whether what scientific knowledge has created should be used or not be used in the interests of mankind. If we make a wrong decision, the consequences will be too terrible. If some lunatics were to use the hydrogen bomb for some political or religious purpose, our civilization that has been built up down through the ages would have been wiped off from the surface of this earth in a very short time, leaving nothing behind, men or animals alive. Do we really want to have such a thing to happen to us? Of course, we don’t. Last but not least, I would like to remind you of one of our Myanmar sayings in this regard: “Fate governs the ever-changing patterns of our fortune, while longevity of life depends on wisdom.” What a beautiful Myanmar saying for us to keep in mind and practice it in life!

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