Friday, January 13, 2012

Wisdom requires humility

A member of a debate forum I'm on has a signature on his profile that is short but profound.

"Humility is a prerequisite for wisdom because we will always be wrong about many things and therefore must be open to realizing self-error." (Yarn)

The scientist Robert Millikan expressed a similar attitude when he said, "Fullness of knowledge always means some understanding of the depths of our ignorance; and that is always conducive to humility and reverence."

If one is truly seeking wisdom they can only do so by admitting that there is much they don't know and that much of what they think they know could be wrong. 

Humble Contemplationby ~cicaprincessa

This is the point where the desire for enlightenment departs from the path of seeking religious knowledge. Seeking only that knowledge which one believes can be imparted by a god means that the knowledge one believes they receive from their god must be free of error, that it cannot be wrong. There is a smug satisfaction that accompanies the belief that one is the holder of absolute truths. 

The seeker of natural knowledge, that knowledge and wisdom generated by humans over the course of centuries of trial and error, success and failure, always remains aware that the knowledge they posses as well as that which they seek may very well be in error, and that they only seek it because of their current ignorance or incomplete knowledge. There is no absolute knowledge to be acquired and no source of absolute knowledge. The belief that one posses knowledge which is absolute and without error blinds that person to what they don't know. How can you seek to know more if you already think you know it all?

Before we begin a journey of discovery and seeking knowledge, we must practice the humility of admitting that we are unsure, unconvinced and unaware of so many things. It's foolish to take pride in the small amount of knowledge we posses when the amount of ignorance we each posses is so much greater. It's equally foolish to think that we as humans could ever be free from error. 
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