What does it mean to know something?
Knowledge, like love, resides at various levels and is mainly understood at a high level.
I don’t believe any of us want to think of ourselves as ignorant. The truth is, we cannot know everything there is to know. And if we try, we will fail to have a deep understanding of anything— ‘One who tries to master all is a master of none.’
That said, our level of knowledge varies from subject to subject. The more time we spend understanding a topic, the more competent we are on the matter and progress through these four levels of knowledge:
Information – high-level understanding.
What does it mean to be informed?
I ‘know’ that the moon affects the tide because that is what I was taught by educators and scientists. However, that is the extent of my understanding of the matter.
I also know people who believe that the Earth is flat based on information they have been subjected to and believe. Information is not always subject to validity and can be a collection of theories, conditions, and scientifically proven facts. In this sense, we are swimming in a sea of data (accurate or otherwise).
Some people may argue that misinformation should not be declared information at all. Regardless, we are taking someone else’s word for whatever we choose to hold as facts at this level of knowledge. Neither you nor I can prove that the Earth is round, flat, or any shape based on what we have personally experienced. We haven’t been to space to confirm. Instead, we rely on those we consider to be experts to inform us and provide us with photos, videos, data, etc., that help inform our decisions and level of awareness.
When we begin to dive deeper into the subject, we begin to develop wisdom.
Wisdom – reflection and study.
While you do not have to get a formal education to develop wisdom, it is safe to say that formal education should provide you with enough knowledge on a subject to build wisdom. This same level of knowledge can be developed through on-the-job training, reading numerous books, or consuming hours of content on a given topic.
An example of this level of knowledge might be that you want to learn how to do a home DIY project that requires know-how. So, you watch a few videos on YouTube, and now you have acquired new terminology, understanding, and techniques to get the job done.
However, while you have acquired a new skill level, what you learned is very specific. It would take much more information and practice to reach the next level of knowledge—expert.
Expertise – information plus experience and practical understanding obtained over time.
It’s easy for someone who has gained the wisdom to assume expert-level knowledge. However, being an expert takes years of study, practice, and fine-tuning. Experts make difficult things look easy and can talk about their subject in-depth and fluently. No matter how much they know, they know there is always more to learn and remain open and curious.
Intuition – a more profound sense of awareness.
Intuitive knowledge is difficult to explain because it goes beyond informed wisdom. It’s wisdom through feeling and a sense of knowing that penetrates the core of your being. Practice and information alone can not lead to intuitive wisdom. It cannot be taught but experienced only when an individual is open and willing to receive it.
Examples of this level of knowledge vary. For instance, someone who can play or construct elaborate pieces of music by ear but does not know how to read sheet music or has had a profound life-altering experience that led to deep awareness and insight.
All levels of knowledge are important. However, few people will take the time to explore beyond wisdom in their lifetime. Not because they can’t, but because they are consumed by the lure of instant gratification and lack the discipline needed to become an expert. Or they lack the mindfulness and awareness required to experience intuitive wisdom.
But nothing is impossible. It’s also not without effort.