Knowledge, Education, Learning and Thinking

There are two types of knowledge. The first is “original” knowledge: it is primordial, intuitive and innate to every human being. Original knowledge is more than mere bits of information about something: it is the clear comprehension and appreciation of the truth of one’s unique existence. Descartes’ maxim, “I think, therefore, I am” literally means, “I think, therefore, I know that I am.” Original knowledge is that within each of us that testifies to the uniqueness of our existence so that when this knowledge becomes the subject of our contemplation we can say, “I think, therefore, I know who I am.” Although it is intrinsic to every human being, original knowledge is not self-evident. It must be mined and uncovered through thoughtful reflection and intentional rumination.

The second type of knowledge is “consequent” knowledge. It is subsequent, derivative, external and is not innate. Original knowledge is self-knowledge; everything else is the content of consequent knowledge. It is the immense array of data and stimuli that are encountered external to the Self. It is not entirely accurate to say that it is knowledge per se, rather it is the body of information from which knowledge is fashioned.

The purpose of both types of knowledge is to provide the means for the growth of the Self (Soul) and, secondarily, of society. Knowledge is the nutrient for soul and social development; but not just any knowledge. Knowledge is not neutral. It either strengthens or withers the knower. Formal education, citing academic freedom, facilitates the exploration and acquisition of all kinds of “consequent” knowledge without regard for its “healthfulness” for the souls of the learners and the societies in which they live. It is this “knowledge for the sake of knowledge” approach to education that results in the ill effects of “too much of a good thing.” Without a guiding centering principle, the learner will be too easily tossed around by the enormous amount of information that comprises what he/she knows. When learners are encouraged to first get in touch with their original knowledge, they proceed with confidence to organize what they subsequently learn into a meaningful and satisfying whole.

It is true that some learners will emerge from formal education with hope in their hearts and a bounce in their step. Others, exposed to the same content, end their academic careers (sometimes prior to graduating) with despondency and dread of the future. Some students will be more acquainted than others with what they already know (their original knowledge) and what they can do. This recognition and understanding of their original knowledge provides them with a framework within which to properly place their consequent knowledge. When original knowledge directs the integration of all subsequently acquired knowledge, the soul grows more confident and contented with its content. Since society is composed of souls, as souls grow so grows society.

I recall an illustration of a young boy who was pestering his father for his attention during the Super Bowl. The boy was persistent so the father, looking around for something to occupy his son’s time for a couple of hours, spotted a picture of the globe on the front page of the newspaper. He turned it into a puzzle by tearing the page into many variously shaped pieces. He then instructed the boy to put the pieces back together. He was startled when his son returned less than ten minutes later with the page perfectly reconstructed. “How did you do this so fast?” exclaimed the father. The son replied, “It’s simple, Dad. There was a picture of a man on the other side and all I had to do was put the man back together and then the world fell into place!”

Our personal world falls into place, which is our proper place in the universe, when we use our original knowledge to accurately put together all the many pieces of consequent knowledge we’ve acquired throughout our lives. Some knowledge will be discarded as inaccurate, impractical, harmful or unsupportive of our uniqueness and self-development. Napoleon Hill, author of “Think and Grow Rich,” understood the need to rid one’s Self of accumulated impoverished knowledge. He wrote, “Not all knowledge which one accumulates through experience is accurate.” Some knowledge will be embraced and woven into the fabric of our distinctive individuality. Every element of our knowing will be assigned its proper place within our soul. It is at this point you become confident in your true Self, unafraid of your uniqueness, unperturbed by external events and opinions, bold and fearless as you face your future.

The human soul is a basic element of creation. Properly placed knowledge is the sole (and soul) ingredient for the expansion and variation of human creation. Every act of acquiring and revealing knowledge is an act of creation. When something new is properly learned and incorporated into one’s mind, the brain becomes something different both physiologically and psychologically than it was previously. To some degree, however big or small, perceived or unperceived by one’s self or others, a different person has been created through the acquisition of new knowledge. I am in agreement with Oliver Wendell Holmes when he said, “the mind, once expanded by a new idea, can never return to its original dimension.” Proper knowledge, then, is the primary means of the on-going development of the Self. Both original and consequent knowledge serve to expand and deepen the meaning and significance of the human soul with the former being the director of the latter.

The Purpose of Education

Instead of putting into or filling up empty-headed students with knowledge they didn’t have, the ancients approached educating the human mind as an endeavor to reach a clear understanding of and appreciation for who one was as a unique individual. The Latin word from which our English word, educate, stems is “educo,” meaning “to bring out, draw out, lead out, march out.” The purpose of education was to “bring out” from within that which was already there by virtue of birth. Instead of bringing out what lies within, modern formal education systems often “educate out” of the child what was originally there by covering it up with what often turns out to be extraneous and superfluous information. There is much “data din” and “knowledge noise” pervading contemporary education.

1 thought on “Knowledge, Education, Learning and Thinking

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