Friday, April 30, 2010

Knowledge and the Internet

There's a service called HARO - Help A Reporter Out, which is pretty cool. Today one of the queries asked for opinions about the value of "real knowledge" in the internet age. I'd post it here, but there is no clear policy about what kind of privacy they expect for the queries that go out.

First, it's important to understand that there are categories of knowledge, and they are nested.
  1. Stuff you don't even know you don't know
  2. Stuff you know that you don't know
  3. Stuff you actually know
  4. Stuff you do all the time and can apply practically
People think that the purpose of Education is to increase to the necessary size the area of practical knowledge (#4), but this is a false assumption. The real purpose of education is to increase the size of #2, thus decreasing slightly the size of #1.

Category 1 stuff is the most dangerous stuff. It's the reason we parent children. They are naive to the dangers around them, having no idea of the tremendous potential energy surround them in the form of stairs, shelves, cars, trucks, trains, etc. Parenting is first of all about reducing the size of #1 stuff to the point where you don't get killed just going about your day. It then moves to #2 over time.

The problem with teenagers, fundamentalists, and younger versions of myself is that they don't really know about #1 at this point, because they have deluded themselves into the false and dangerous belief that they have reduced its size and scope to zero. This leads them to undervalue any skills or products that depend on knowledge that they didn't even know existed.

Through reflection and life experience, wisdom comes when you are fully aware of the vast size and scope of the stuff you know you don't know. It humbles you, and makes you more likely to consider fairly the opinions of others who do know the domain in question.

Now... how does the Internet and Google come into play here?

The internet helps you to explore stuff you don't know anything about, and get the basics. By makes you aware of all of the details of that stuff, and increases your awareness of the stuff you didn't know you didn't know... and makes it stuff you now know you don't know. This allows you to have a much better sense of an area.

So, if you are wise, and open you can both greatly decrease the size of #1 for a subject of interest by moving it into #2, and possibly increase #3 along the way.

Now... this does not help you become an expert instantly. That continues to take practice and work, but it does help you become more well rounded. The internet and Google play an incredible role in making it possible to learn about things that would otherwise be opaque. They are an immense positive asset.

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