In this second of two parts, the purpose of knowledge, education and thinking are explored and conclusions regarding how to integrate them for maximum benefit are offered for your consideration.
The Purpose of Knowledge
There are two types of knowledge. The first is “original” knowledge: it is primordial, intuitive and innate to every human being. Original knowledge is more than mere bits of information about something: it is the clear comprehension and appreciation of the truth of one’s unique existence. Descartes’ maxim, “I think, therefore, I am” literally means, “I think, therefore, I know that I am.” Original knowledge is that within each of us that testifies to the uniqueness of our existence so that when this knowledge becomes the subject of our contemplation we can say, “I think, therefore, I know who I am.” Although it is intrinsic to every human being, original knowledge is not self-evident. It must be mined and uncovered through thoughtful reflection and intentional rumination.
The second type of knowledge is “consequent” knowledge. It is subsequent, derivative, external and is not innate. Original knowledge is self-knowledge; everything else is the content of consequent knowledge. It is the immense array of data and stimuli that are encountered external to the Self. It is not entirely accurate to say that it is knowledge per se, rather it is the body of information from which knowledge is fashioned.
The purpose of both types of knowledge is to provide the means for the growth of the Self (Soul) and, secondarily, of society. Knowledge is the nutrient for soul and social development; but not just any knowledge. Knowledge is not neutral. It either strengthens or withers the knower. Formal education, citing academic freedom, facilitates the exploration and acquisition of all kinds of “consequent” knowledge without regard for its “healthfulness” for the souls of the learners and the societies in which they live. It is this “knowledge for the sake of knowledge” approach to education that results in the ill effects of “too much of a good thing.” Without a guiding centering principle, the learner will be too easily tossed around by the enormous amount of information that comprises what he/she knows. When learners are encouraged to first get in touch with their original knowledge, they proceed with confidence to organize what they subsequently learn into a meaningful and satisfying whole.
It is true that some learners will emerge from formal education with hope in their hearts and a bounce in their step. Others, exposed to the same content, end their academic careers (sometimes prior to graduating) with despondency and dread of the future. Some students will be more acquainted than others with what they already know (their original knowledge) and what they can do. This recognition and understanding of their original knowledge provides them with a framework within which to properly place their consequent knowledge. When original knowledge directs the integration of all subsequently acquired knowledge, the soul grows more confident and contented with its content. Since society is composed of souls, as souls grow so grows society.
I recall an illustration of a young boy who was pestering his father for his attention during the Super Bowl. The boy was persistent so the father, looking around for something to occupy his son’s time for a couple of hours, spotted a picture of the globe on the front page of the newspaper. He turned it into a puzzle by tearing the page into many variously shaped pieces. He then instructed the boy to put the pieces back together. He was startled when his son returned less than ten minutes later with the page perfectly reconstructed. “How did you do this so fast?” exclaimed the father. The son replied, “It’s simple, Dad. There was a picture of a man on the other side and all I had to do was put the man back together and then the world fell into place!”
Our personal world falls into place, which is our proper place in the universe, when we use our original knowledge to accurately put together all the many pieces of consequent knowledge we’ve acquired throughout our lives. Some knowledge will be discarded as inaccurate, impractical, harmful or unsupportive of our uniqueness and self-development. Napoleon Hill, author of “Think and Grow Rich,” understood the need to rid one’s Self of accumulated impoverished knowledge. He wrote, “Not all knowledge which one accumulates through experience is accurate.” Some knowledge will be embraced and woven into the fabric of our distinctive individuality. Every element of our knowing will be assigned its proper place within our soul. It is at this point you become confident in your true Self, unafraid of your uniqueness, unperturbed by external events and opinions, bold and fearless as you face your future.
The human soul is a basic element of creation. Properly placed knowledge is the sole (and soul) ingredient for the expansion and variation of human creation. Every act of acquiring and revealing knowledge is an act of creation. When something new is properly learned and incorporated into one’s mind, the brain becomes something different both physiologically and psychologically than it was previously. To some degree, however big or small, perceived or unperceived by one’s self or others, a different person has been created through the acquisition of new knowledge. I am in agreement with Oliver Wendell Holmes when he said, “the mind, once expanded by a new idea, can never return to its original dimension.” Proper knowledge, then, is the primary means of the on-going development of the Self. Both original and consequent knowledge serve to expand and deepen the meaning and significance of the human soul with the former being the director of the latter.
The Purpose of Education
Instead of putting into or filling up empty-headed students with knowledge they didn’t have, the ancients approached educating the human mind as an endeavor to reach a clear understanding of and appreciation for who one was as a unique individual. The Latin word from which our English word, educate, stems is “educo,” meaning “to bring out, draw out, lead out, march out.” The purpose of education was to “bring out” from within that which was already there by virtue of birth. Instead of bringing out what lies within, modern formal education systems often “educate out” of the child what was originally there by covering it up with what often turns out to be extraneous and superfluous information. There is much “data din” and “knowledge noise” pervading contemporary education.
Shel Silverstein, the late master of simple yet profound verse, crystallized this reality in his poem, “Forgotten Language.”
“Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
In my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
Of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
Flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?”
Samuel Johnson’s words, quoted earlier, bear repeating: “human beings need to be reminded more than they need to be taught.” The content of education often overwhelms any context within which the content can be properly understood and applied to “real life.” Instead of being reminded of what we already know about ourselves, we are relentlessly inundated with voluminous material that essentially causes us to forget what we know. If ever we have a déjà vu experience in our formal education in which we learn that we already know something about our true Selves, the very next moment the syllabus has us off to different data without helping us knit our knowing into new knowledge.
Michelangelo was once asked how he was able to transform a cold, inanimate block of stone into a beautiful angel with the appearance of warmth and life. He replied, “I don’t see the block of stone. I see the angel inside and keep chipping away until it is released.” This is an excellent way of understanding an educator’s proper approach to the process of educating both young and old.
Doing What You Know
You’ve no doubt heard that people know what to do but they don’t always do what they know. The primary reason why they don’t always do what they know is because they don’t always know that they know. They haven’t yet been educated to be aware of their original knowledge. They have been “put into” and not “brought out of.” They haven’t been taught that the purpose of thinking is first and foremost to know their true Selves and not just to know what others know. Furthermore, we all tend to devalue our knowledge and think that we either don’t know enough to do well or that what we do know isn’t good enough to do well.
When you know yourself, you will understand implicitly what you are capable of doing and what you need to do to be your true Self. At the same time, you will also implicitly understand others because we are like those Russian stacking dolls: inside each of us is a small version of all of us. Although we are unique manifestations of humanity, every human being is possessed of unique original knowledge that nonetheless bears the dimensions and content of a common humanity.
When you do what you know, that is to say, when your daily behavior and decisions are intimately informed by your original knowledge, your actions become infinitely more effective than they ever could have been before. You find yourself acting from a strength spawned not of blind faith or simplistic certitude but of unwavering confidence in the face of uncertainty. You act from the center of your true Self and the manner in which you speak and move through life is benevolent and peaceful. Your thinking is comprehensive in its awareness of the environment and takes into consideration the impact your thoughts will have on others.
Thinking From Your Center
In most of the success literature beginning with the 1903 Napoleon Hill classic, “Think and Grow Rich,” the idea that thought is the supreme creator of human destiny and quality of life has taken root and grown immensely strong. James Allen, in his seminal classic, “As A Man Thinketh,” wrote,
“Thought in the mind hath made us.
What we are by thought was wrought and built.
If a man’s mind hath evil thought, pain comes on him as comes the wheel the ox behind. If one endure in purity of
thought, joy follows him as his own shadow – sure.”
In the same book, he also wrote the following. You may wish to replace the words, “you” and “your” with the words “I” and “my” so as to turn each sentence into affirmations so that you can use them to increase your understanding and appreciation of the power and potential of your own thoughts.
“As you think, you travel; just as you love, you attract.
You are today where your thoughts have brought you.
You will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.
You cannot escape the results of your thoughts.
But you can endure and learn; you can accept and be glad.
For you will realize the vision of your heart, be it base or beautiful.
You will fall, remain or rise with your thoughts.
Cherish your vision, your ideal.
For you will become as small as your controlling desire or as great as your dominant aspiration.”
Original knowledge, once uncovered, is the clear awareness of your controlling desires and the content of your dominant aspirations. Consequent knowledge helps us identify the proper ways our dominant aspirations can be fanned into the flames of enthusiasm, ambition and accomplishment. It can also help us take the necessary steps to overcome the petty and self-limiting desires that yield the incomplete and unsatisfying outcomes we often experience throughout our lives.
Thought, indeed, is powerful energy. But to be of any worthwhile value a thought must be acted upon by the thinker so that it is manifested externally to the mind that produced it. All things that can be classified as “real” (tangible, observable, pliable, empirical) are actually secondary physical manifestations of initial intangible, invisible mental activity. They become “real” by means of the thinker acting on the thought and “fleshing it out.”
Andrew Holmes, brother to Oliver Wendell Holmes, said, “speech is conveniently located midway between thought and action where it often substitutes for both.” Just because a problem is talked about doesn’t mean that it will be thoughtfully acted upon by anyone at the meeting. In fact, too often those gathered to discuss a problem believe that they actually have acted on the problem just by talking about it. This may be a good place, perhaps the only place, to begin solving a problem, but it is too often the last thing anybody does anything about it, including thinking about it.
Thoughts that arise from the blending of original self-knowledge and other forms of consequent experiential knowledge provide the motives to take action to realize them in external tangible form. This is why the best of human thinking begins and ends with how to manifest one’s uniqueness in the world. When you realize the beautiful vision of your heart, of your true Self, you will rise to manifest the greatness of your dominant thoughts in all of your actions.