Knowledge as Wealth

Knowledge as Wealth

Knowledge is a subject about subjects, a kind of metasubject if you will, and it is a difficult subject to write about without resorting to platitudes. However, platitudes become platitudes because they are generally perceived as containing a large element of truth and hence are repeated ad nauseam. Having said that, off I go.

First, it seems to me, that the more you know about a subject the more interesting that subject becomes to you. Even if it is a subject that you are not fond of, once you have penetrated it in depth, every time you encounter it again you can place that new experience in a previously established frame of reference and gain a certain amount of satisfaction in doing so. Secondly, it stands to reason, by extension, that the more subjects for which you have a substantial frame of reference, the more interesting and satisfying your life will become. Finally, there seems to be some evidence that the broader and deeper your interests in life, the longer you live. Maybe, life long learning should be thought of as prevention for dying of boredom. Boredom can kill you in any number of ways.

Most of us get our first experience in detailed examination of a subject while in school. There we are required to learn a subject in order to graduate. Unfortunately, many people quit the process once it is no longer required. Probably the greatest benefit one can get from schooling is to learn to learn, but, alas, that lesson often goes unlearned.

There is a certain amount of inertia to overcome when setting your mind to a new task. It is much easier to just continue on in a field you have already mastered, especially when it provides you with a good living, anda rolling stone gathers no moss” (the original meaning is intended). Your chosen field of expertise becomes so established that operating within it is almost automatic and increases in your financial wealth provide you with a sense of accomplishment. However, from a knowledge point of view, it can be the difference between ten years of experience and one year of experience ten times.

Tackling a new field of learning creates new synaptic connections in your brain. These connections hook up to already established frames of reference and enable synthesis to take place. One finds that concepts and procedures learned in one field can apply in some new endeavor and provide one with insights more one-dimensional individuals may have overlooked. Often what emerges from such crossbreeding is a concept superior to either progenitor. A parallel for this exists in biology and is known as hybrid vigor.

Today’s considerable emphasis on being physically fit probably exists because one can quickly assess that kind of fitness at a glance in a right-brained manner. Mental fitness cannot be determined quite so quickly and usually requires a left-brained approach such as an extended conversation. Both types of fitness are important and both can suffer from disuse. In addition there is some overlap between them, but as the ancient Greeks used to say “The body is the temple of the mind,” and I believe that places the priorities correctly.

With the increasing complexity and the accelerating pace of life in these modern times, it is sometimes easier, because of mental inertia and time restraints, to become specialized as opposed to approaching life on a broad front. This is especially true when that specialty is lucrative. Consequently, many people are continually skipping across the surface of life, hurrying to the other side, and rarely take the time to find out how deep the water is at different locations. In that metaphor the “other side” represents financial wealth that for some is the be all and end all of life. The bright side of this picture is that financial success brings with it an opportunity for early withdrawal from the rat race, hopefully before you become more rat than human. Financial wealth is, however, fairly easy to lose, whereas a wealth of knowledge never leaves you entirely—short of dementia.

Each of us is in possession of a single copy of the most magnificent creation that has ever come to the attention of humanity. The human mind is the end product of three and a half billion years of evolution. It is the grandest structure in the Universe as far as we know. Here on Earth, it sets us apart from all other forms of life. It is Mother Nature’s masterpiece. It behooves each of us to make the best use we can of such a valuable asset.

When we gather knowledge of the Universe outside our head we create a simulation of the Universe inside our head. This simulation helps us to understand the context of our lives and is most easily achieved by leading a multifaceted existence. The human brain has remarkable ability to collect information (data) via the senses, test this information for consistency (truth), and store it away in frames of reference (subjects). The sum total of this subject inventory (knowledge), with all its interconnections is the simulation of the Universe that every individual creates for his or her self. Naturally, the greater the body of knowledge one possesses, the better one understands one’s existence. At some point, something akin to wisdom or enlightenment may even be achieved. This would appear to a worthy goal for the magnificent brain with which we are all blessed. Then, in your old age, you can wander through the mansion of your mind and know you are wealthy.

R. L. Mason

Mendocino, California

2008

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