The Wandering Monk

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Intelligence vs Ignorance

During a conversation with someone on the ambiguity of Ignorance vs Stupidity, this portion of the topic came up.  This is just a snippet of a larger conversation, but I thought it summarized a point of view I’d like to capture here.


Perhaps I will be judged for what I am about to say, but it has been my experience that a great many people do not have a thirst for knowledge. I have found true enjoyment in my need for learning. It has fostered my ability to hear that I am wrong, internalize it, and also be OK with it, contrary to the personalities I find. It also drives me to fact check myself and others.

I do this not just because I love to learn, but because there is a lot of Grade A Bullshit in the world, and face value wants you to believe everything you hear. I don’t ever believe anything that anyone says to me, no matter what they are saying, or who they are, simply because they said it. I believe it because I have either found it to be true myself or researched it and have drawn the same conclusion. Even then, I am willing to hear opposing sides that challenge that view, but I will also be equipped to counter with my experiences, or with what I had found in research.

What about first-hand knowledge vs hearing it from someone else?  Experience is absolutely important, but not always practical. Forming our own opinions by gleaning as much information as we can, however, can be made practical with perspective.

For example, if you told me that water density has one of the biggest impacts on global climate, that would be face value. Even if I respected you more than any other human being on the planet, and had never known you to take shortcuts in your speech, I would want to know that what you’re saying is true, and more importantly, why that’s true.

I can’t very well go analyze water density around the world to discover how it impacts climate, but I can research it on my own. I can discover that salt water that is heavier and enables colder water to sink and warmer water to rise, fueling strong currents to carry warmth from the equator up towards northern (European) countries that, without this constant supply of warmth, would be frigid and cold. I can learn, through multiple perspectives and unbiased investigation, that polar ice caps melting slowly modify the density of the ocean at certain points, causing this current to naturally change in depth. I can learn that this is one part of a much larger global climate discussion that I am not engaged with.

Perhaps years ago, this mentality would have manifested in different ways. As scholars who spent countless years of their life researching thoughts, ideas, and theories, perhaps. We are in the Information Age now, and I have endless knowledge at my fingertips. With critical thinking, common sense, and a mind to discover reality and truth in an unbiased way, I can abate ignorance in favor of knowledge any time I want. And so can anyone else.

Collectively, this ought to make us smarter, right?  I often wonder if it makes us lazy, as a people. Perhaps time will tell.

When we start off as human beings, such as infants and toddlers, we are curious creatures. Complacency, social pressure, and pack minds are what lead us away from our curiosity, I think. People want to tell you what they’ve found, and you can feel their enthusiasm. Its usually rude or disrespectful to tell someone they’re wrong. You’ll be perceived as argumentative and social opinion of you will suffer.

However, if we can shed the sheep’s clothing and stand as ourselves, not as the person pushed around by the opinions and misleading factoids of others, we can solidify our identity, our opinions, and our beliefs as founded from within, not from without.

Earlier I made a reference to a misquote and paraphrased version of the Kalama Sutra (a Buddhist/Dharma text), often attributed incorrectly to Buddha (Gautama Siddharta), that says:

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

The actual text in Kalama Sutra reads:
“Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.”

You may be wondering why I’m making references to Buddhism randomly in a conversation about ignorance vs intelligence. The reason for the reference is two-fold.

First, the advice in both statements is, to me, great advice to heed, because I have found in my life that these things are true. Whether you subscribe to either passage, or even both, the idea of paddling your own canoe is a noble one and honestly, the one that truly defines you, in my opinion.

Second, to point out the difference of the misrepresentation of the original quote. The irony here is that it is a quote to tell you not to believe anything you read simply because you read it, and it is itself a falsely referenced quote (maybe intentionally done to reinforce the conundrum its offering, but that’s a tad conspiracy theory, isn’t it?).

TL;DR: See with your eyes, hear with your ears, feel with your fingers, and greatly and meticulously observe and experience your whole reality as much as possible.  Do this and you may just find that the words of others have little to no sway over the person that you become.

Then again, if you do decide to do this, will you have done it because I said to, or because you believe you should?

Ah, and so the paradox persists.