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A Brief Note On Knowing Things

The blog problems continue from a technical standpoint, so screw it. I’ve changed the theme while I try to fix it, because I’m tired of not writing. So! Pardon the mess and read the words if you’re still feeling charitable towards me. 

I’ve been in some conversations about knowledge recently. The fantastic book Plato At The Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away is partially to blame.

Here is the sum total of how I think about knowledge right now:

Knowing where to find an answer can feel like knowing the answer. Being able to look up the definition of a word–or all words–on your phone can feel like knowing the meaning of that word, or words.

It’s not the same thing. Does this matter? It matters to me.

Finding it doesn’t mean you know how to use it. It’s not the same thing as internalizing a concept that you can then use to weigh your actions against.

My greatest fear is living as if I know enough. As if I’ve read enough, or asked enough questions. As if I might already have learned the most important things.

The fact that I can look up the answers to any questions is, paradoxically, sometimes the very thing that keeps me from asking questions. That might not make sense if you haven’t experienced it, but it’s real for me, and it always leads to a less satisfying mental life.

There is a joy in figuring things out. When thumb typing questions into a search engine is the default, something precious is lost.




Comments on this entry are closed.

  • spencer December 15, 2014, 3:32 pm

    I could not agree more. I am reading the Googleplex book as well, though I’m not in too deep yet. But I have been becoming increasingly concerned by the distinction you reference re: accessibility of answers and knowledge. We have more access to information than any previous generation, probably by tens of thousands of percentage points. And yet kids growing up with this technology do not know how to spell, they don’t read, they can’t have an actual in-person conversation with anyone, they don’t commit anything to memory. I think becoming at least a little bit crotchety and alarmist is inherent in the aging process, but I fear for the future. Having all the answers at the click of a button is not the point. It’s the thinking/seeking process that matters. I hope I never stop seeking.

  • suburbancorrespondent December 15, 2014, 9:00 pm

    I just read your book and enjoyed it very much. I was wondering whether or not you could (in some future blog post) give a list of books a teen boy would like to read. Currently he seems to be enjoying “Into Thin Air.” He’s my third boy, so I should already know what to recommend to him; but all three have had very different tastes in books.

    Also, if Wordpress continues not to work, you could try moving to Blogger – I’ve never had a problem with it.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 16, 2014, 11:36 am

      Yes, I could do that. If he liked Into Thin Air he’d probably like anything Krakauer writes. More to come!

  • charles bell December 16, 2014, 12:58 pm

    as einstein while working as a math professor at princeton and making a mistake in an homework equation, was quoted as saying ,i use my brain for working on what ‘s not in the books”. I view true knowledge as a result of learning from hands on first person experiences. and the results of those experiences which may or may not be applicaple to others. the ability to access information ,to know where to look something up ,in that case your only true knowledge is the knowing of where to look up the information. education is the formal adquiring of knowledge. what we do with that education then can define itself only after we evaluate the end result. true intelligence is the intutitive or inspirational results that one can arrive at from aquiring knowledge.only a few rare people go that far. today many of us have access to endless information, and many of us like to feel we now have knowledge, we do ,but to what degree ,is it first hand ,second hand or even hearsay information. in philosophy it is argued that unless one has total knowledge ,which is unobtainable ,one only has a potentially dangerous level of lesser knowledge and therefore is ignorant. as i get older it becomes more evident that one should keep things as simple as possible. a reading suggestion might be “all i need to know i learned in kindergarten”.///// hi , have found your site only today, good stuff! thankfully someone has sought to combine the trilogy of mental ,physical and spiritual strength . lastly , check out a fellow by the name of serge redding, now long deceased. with all respect to you , i think you will agree he deserves the title as the worlds strongest librarian.

  • Liz Webb December 17, 2014, 8:36 am

    You are not the only one having problems with Wordpress.

    WordPress Sites Blocked by Google After Malware Attack – check the news, it is affecting thousands of blogs.

    Sorry you have to deal with this. I really like the simplicity of what you are doing in the meantime, though.