“Where is the wisdom we have lost in information?” I heard this T.S. Eliot quote in one of my favorite British murder mystery television shows, “Inspector Lewis.”
The show is set in Oxford England, one of the world-famous centers of intelligentsia where classical knowledge is rampant and the detectives frequently quote philosophers, well-known scholars, composers, and thinkers of every ilk. It’s a detective show for thinkers; Ooh la la.
Today’s culture is glutted with information, but it is not my lone opinion that all this available information has not led to a culture filled with wise folk. In fact, we seem to have a dearth of wisdom to draw upon for inspiration to shine.
Most people want just the facts and don’t take the time to ponder, sift, churn or ruminate the information they obtain in order to glean wisdom, something akin to gold or diamonds. Too many are willing to settle for dirt, ordinary stone, or coal rather than dig for the gems.
Pete Seeger’s 1955 song, “Where have all the flowers gone?” speaks specifically about war, but generally to the cyclical nature of things. That song was penned the year of my birth, so it talks my language and reminds me of the cycles that have turned during my lifetime.
One of those cycles which I have lived through is the character of learning, knowledge, and wisdom. I ask, where have all the intellectual miners gone? Again, there has been a turnabout from respect for the classical thinkers of Oxford England and our aspiring to understand them, to the instantaneous nature of “Wikipedia-knowledge,” where facts are bantered about as if they’re “the truth and nothing but the truth.”
I wonder, are we even looking to find answers to the questions we all should be asking? I think it’s perhaps an old person thing, but do most people these days expect others to do all the intellectual work for them?
My husband and I are in a business where we occasionally receive emails from some college student asking for information which one once went to a library to research for oneself. It’s as if Wikipedia isn’t even easy enough to access, some folks just go to another expert source and ask outright for the answer.
Have these people not been taught to do even the simplest of research? They seem not to want to search for answers, they prefer being spoon fed something that resembles fact.
Must it be either a quick fix or give up; a tell me the answers or I’ll move on to someone who will, cultural environment? Is T.S. Eliot timeless or what? His intuition about the failure of information to automatically transform to wisdom was penned in 1934.
There is no wisdom in straight-out information. It’s just the raw materials, so go to work and make something out of it, already!
Information is not the end of the matter. It’s just clay. You must sculpt information into something useful to humankind. Information is not a finished product.
Because we live in an era of unprecedented access to information, access alone does not result in knowledge or even further, to wisdom. In order to become wisdom, information is combined in a stew of knowledge, experience, perception, comprehension of the difference between right and wrong, judgment as to when and how to act, and a pinch of common-sense.
The accomplished race-car driver, Mario Andretti said, “Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal. Prepare yourself in every way you can by increasing your knowledge and adding to your experience, so that you can make the most of opportunity when it occurs.”
In some ways, all the information in the world, impedes knowledge because apparently, we’ve not taught the generations how to process, sift, and understand the morass of informational stimuli we are bombarded with. More is not better.
I’m told that in digital as well as analog communications, there is something called SNR or a “signal-to-noise ratio.” That’s a technical phrase specific to the field of communications, but it is useful to this discussion of information-processing, or FYI, “for your information.”
Simply put, “signal” is the meaningful information that one is actually trying to glean. “Noise” is random, unwanted stuff that interferes with the signal. It’s my judgment that the signal to noise ratio in our culture today has got to be a generous 20/80; twenty percent signal to eighty percent noise.
Therefore, I’m not picking on anybody for trying to simplify the process of information gathering, and often getting it wrong. There’s too much chaff floating around the environment, to see through it to glean the grain of value.
But let’s not stop trying. As I am told that one should aim above the mark, to hit the mark, it’s probably smart to aim high toward wisdom, and strive to get there, but be content with compounding knowledge, in the process. W. Clement Stone put it this way, “Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.”
It’s a personal quirk of mine to dig to the depths, in fact my website (deepthoughtsonrandomstuff.com) testifies to this tendency. It might be that one of my targets has always been wisdom, and depth of thought is part of the process. I will leave you with a favorite quote by an anonymous writer, “To reach a great height, a person needs to have great depth.”