“We do not know one millionth of one percent about anything” (Thomas Alva Edison).
ONE OF THE GREAT ADVENTURES IN LIFE IS THE EXPLORATION OF NEW KNOWLEDGE. Learning things we have never known before is tremendously exciting. But just as the exploration of previously uncharted physical territory is hard work, the attainment of new knowledge requires considerable effort. Perhaps that is why many do not bother about it. But the rewards of new knowledge are well worth the exertion of ourselves to gain it.
The current “explosion of knowledge” may lead us to believe there is not much new territory to be explored, intellectually speaking. But there is! Edison lived well before our times, but his words are just as true today: “We do not know one millionth of one percent about anything.” And even in subject areas that we think are well-trodden, there is still much that we might profitably give our minds to. As a writer, I agree with Dostoevsky’s observation: “There is no subject so old that something new cannot be said about it.”
I believe there is a special benefit that comes from stretching our minds to study topics we do not presently have much interest in. If you’ve never tried it, do this: go to a good bookstore, find a well-written book on a topic you know absolutely nothing about, and read it seriously, just for the intellectual workout that it gives you.
And if you’re really serious about learning, I want to recommend two other practices: listening and teaching. In regard to listening, a good listener “is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something” (Wilson Mizner). It’s amazing what you can learn by listening. And as for teaching, there is no better way to know anything than to teach it to others. So do both of these things. Listen every chance you get, and never turn down an opportunity to teach.
“Finally, remember that we do not accumulate knowledge simply to be smarter; we do it so we can make better choices in the living of our lives. Our quest for truth (right knowledge) is for the purpose of goodness (right conduct). The ultimate question, therefore, is not what we know but what we are doing about what we know. Whoever acquires knowledge and does not practice it resembles him who plows his land and leaves it unsown” (Saadi).