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The Wisdom of Knowing Nothing 
 

What is wisdom?


The 'Apology of Socrates' is the dialogue that depicts the trial of the Greek philosopher in 469BC, specifically, it is a defence against the charges of “corrupting the young” and “not believing in the gods in whom the city believes".

 

In 'Apology of Socrates', Plato relates that Socrates attributes his seeming wiser than any other person to the fact that he does not imagine that he knows what he does not know.

 

"I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either."

 

Socrates is said to have gone to a "wise" man, and after speaking with him, withdraws and thinks the above to himself. Socrates, since he denied any kind of knowledge, then tried to find someone wiser than himself among politicians, poets, and craftsmen.

 

He found that politicians claimed wisdom without knowledge; poets could touch people with their words, but did not know their meaning; and craftsmen could claim knowledge only in very specific fields.


It appears as if the attachment to some form of learned knowledge starts to narrow our focus, the stronger the attachment the more narrow the focus becomes, as this focus narrows we can become unable to see outside of it.

 

This narrow focus may increase our understanding of a very specific area of knowledge but reduces our ability to see the bigger picture, to objectively review anything that falls outside of it without the body of learned knowledge in some way affecting the context of the review.

 

One can become so overtaken by the target of their focus, so obsessed by it that it's importance in their mind grows and expands to the point that it is all pervading and can seem like the only real truth, or the most important thing in the world, pushing aside any or all knowledge that lays outside of it.

 

So this begs the question; is awareness of ones own ignorance the source of true wisdom?

 

If we look closer, into ourselves, we often attach knowledge we have spent time acquiring to our identity, we wear this earned knowledge like a badge of honour, proudly displaying it for all to see. Heaven forbid someone should question this knowledge, for to question this knowledge is to question our very identity.

 

The attachment to this knowledge can cloud our views and thoughts, affecting our ability to make clear and rational decisions. We become dogmatic in our actions to the point where we no longer seek truth, but rather seek to simply validate our badge of honour in order to consolidate the strength of our identity.

 

By attaching ourselves to a belief or body of knowledge in such a way, we make it a part of our identity, meaning we see ourselves through it's lens. In doing so we remove the possibility that we can be anything else.

 

The politician who has campaigned vehemently his entire life for a certain agenda powerless to go back on what he has fought so hard for even if the shifting tides of the political landscape have changed his mind.

 

The poet so caught up in eliciting a certain reaction in his readers that he forgoes an understanding of the deeper meaning of his words, missing the wisdom within his own message.

 

The craftsman who commits his entire life to mastering one trade, immersing himself so deeply within the practice that he becomes unable to see over the walls this knowledge creates.

 

We put ourselves into these labelled boxes, removing all possibility that we can be anything else in the process.

 

This habit of self limitation pollutes the mind, affecting our motives and thus distorting our actions, which only serves to further perpetuate the problem. In short we create a box for ourselves, one where true discovery cannot live.

 

So what is wisdom?