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Knowing Versus Doing

October 10, 2011

In this post, I explained the relationship between philosophy, mathematics, and science, and elaborated on their individual merits, as well as their utility (role) in the grand scheme of things. Put in layman’s terms, philosophy is knowing, mathematics is understanding, and science is doing. It should be obvious then that all three elements are equally important aspects of knowledge, each dedicated to utilizing knowledge in different ways (to accumulate, interpret, and apply knowledge). But of these, the ones that most directly concern us, are the knowing and doing of things, not just for knowledge itself (as was the topic concerned in the last post), but for the living of life in general.

Knowledge is power, in that what you know determines the limits of what you can do, but for the same reason, you are limited in the magnitude of your doing, by the scope of the knowledge you choose to acquire and make use of (apply).

If you know a little bit of everything, and wish to acquire knowledge for the very sake of acquisition– even in the more piously academic sense– you will accomplish very little for precisely the same reason. Just as butter spread over too much bread will make very little impact upon the taste buds of those unfortunate enough to taste it, one who knows a little bit about everything will end up doing little to nothing for the world, and have no more positive influence on the world that that of an ‘insufferable know-it-all’, at best a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. To acquire knowledge merely for the sake of knowing is of little use to anyone, and especially wasteful to the individual who chooses to lead such a lifestyle. This is why scientists are so disparaging of philosophers– they see amazing men, with brilliant minds, who do nothing with their thoughts, save perhaps for the recording of wandering thoughts. Philosophers have by virtue of their commitment to thought an infinite potential, but nothing can come of philosophy alone, and so most of the offspring of a philosopher’s mind becomes little more than ‘aborted’ thoughts, and vaporware.

By contrast, those that pursue living an active life, without regard to the knowledge prerequisite to living a truly meaningful life, do indeed live life to the fullest, but the scope to which “full” is defined ends up being ‘short-changed’ by the lack of knowledge that would otherwise define and expand the limits of such people’s lives. The construction worker, the fast food employee, and the factory worker all spend their days actively contributing to society, and one would think that the effort they exert would accumulate into something meaningful. But although perhaps the level of meaning in such occupations might be meaningful enough for such individuals, the only objectively recognizable accomplishment of their work is money: a means to purchase what society might consider ‘happiness’, but nothing more. With the proper knowledge, planning, and enduring resolve of one who wishes to live a life greater than what such mundane occupations can provide, the construction worker is transformed into the architect, the fast food employee into a chef, and the factory worker into an engineer; such transformations allow a person to do what they love doing, but on a far more self-enriching and meaningful level, with the appropriate knowledge and planning for these positions being prerequisite to the manifestation in the given person’s life.

So then, a truly meaningful life is the balanced mixture of knowledge and application, with the knowledge determining the scope of one’s potential, and the application determining how much knowledge is manifested. But what is “meaningful”, in the context of the knowledge that is applied? This is where Communication, the conveyor of meaning, comes in. Communication, the middleman between knowledge and application, and also the inter-mediator between humans, animals, and all living things, is the sheet music through which inspiration (knowledge) is conveyed (applied). To ensure that your thoughts and actions are not only conveyed, but appreciated by those that experience them, proper communication to your target audience is an absolute necessity. Just as the proper conveyance of mathematical principles is necessary for the sciences to make proper use of the philosophies they derive ideas from, All knowledge cannot properly translate into action without communication to interpret it.

This triadic system– knowing (philosophy), communication (understanding), and doing (application)– is the key to living a balanced and utilitarian existence. All three aspects of knowledge are vital to living a truly meaningful life.

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