All men by nature desire knowledge. Aristotle (384 BC–322BC)
Yes we all do. It is amazing to find such a wise and meaningful saying which was told before 2300 years ago, is still working right and it will do the same in the future, distinguishing the author to be an erudite person. Indeed we all seek knowledge, we want to live after knowledge. It is our nature we cannot help it, as far as our faculty for reasoning is concerned, we need to satisfy our thirst to the degree to which our cup of want can be filled.
At this very point of time, the desire may be somehow very specific, and needs clarification as to what it means by knowledge, and what kind of knowledge one has to desire, why and how can we acquire that specific knowledge? Who is going to train us, or who is the source for knowledge? Many other inquiries related to knowledge can be made, which needs truly further clarity. Human being is an interesting creature, who has many unanswered questions in life and who always live with asking questions about what one thinks or calls “Reality” and tries to find out answers from practical experiences and the exercise of one’s own reasoning faculty. Socrates, the most erudite personage on earth, said, the only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance, which one may deduce from his saying that knowledge is the source of all goodness. But this goodness is something that cannot be marginalized as to what this practically means by, for there are many cultural settings in this world, and what one assumes as good is defined by the context of that culture, and may direct us to a concept that goodness by itself is relative. We define any thing according to our culture and thinking, in which our reality is a summation of our societal structure and system. Whether we like it or not, we are obliged and involuntarily forced to accept many social settings designed by the society or generation before us, and we abide by it for we have no choice.
Culture is the totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought in which these patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population. Our culture affects our mentality. It defines the boundary of our thinking, and in most cases, we do not want to know any thing new if it does no agree with the cultural settings of our society, and we prefer to consider it as repugnant or something not important as well. We always try to measure the goodness or badness of any new ideal, based on our cultural experience and standards. Even though it is good to have standard which helps to identify the correctness or falseness of any ideal, the quality of our standard for measurement, [culture], is something that needs further investigation as to how far it is valid and reliable, otherwise, if our standard of measurement is not reliable, it will be very hard to judge the validity and importance of the idea that we need to weigh. In this case our standard [culture] may need entire revision, for it is not capable and adequate.
According to the definition of knowledge, which means the state or fact of knowing, one can easily understand that knowledge can be any thing else that one knows. One should always be aware that there are always different forms and types of knowledge, which vary depending on the depth of the knower and the nature of the matter to know, which can be classified or categorized by the its effect and the influence it is exerting up on. The knowledge of washing one’s face in the morning cannot be equal to the knowledge of the law of gravity. The time, energy and thought that one exercises in investigating any reality, assuming both are essential, is different and dependent up on the nature and character of the reality to be investigated and the capacity of the individual who is working on it. Human being can know both good and bad knowledge, which may further be considered as useful and harmful knowledge. Useful and harmful knowledge are relative in terms, depending on the effect and how we are using it, we may identify to which category that one belongs.
When we use a word as a ‘word’, it does not go beyond the definition explained in any dictionary, call it Oxford or Webster, but when we use it as a ‘concept’, it goes beyond definitions in the dictionaries, which demands the dictionary itself for update, and will subject itself to ownership or to an entity that it had never been identified before, and it gets new power and starts to exert new influence with new perspective so that it may not be the same as one may knew it in the past as a simple or an ordinary word, rather it will draw rapt attention and new influence over the environment. This does not mean that it will have different meaning than the original, but it will somehow be wider in dimension and meaning that it will reveal the hidden secrets within it and manifest itself in a very expressive, explainable and wider way. I know the word ‘corruption’ for years and many have used it so seldom, but today many papers have been written, many workshops have been going on and it is a great issue in many countries, and it is no more just a ‘word’ but rather it is a ‘concept’. Some words become so popular when their manifestation to this objective reality becomes so ripe. Words, in a very fact, are just a combination of letters but their practical and outward applications and interaction within society is just a mystery, on how they get through the nerve of every human being and transform into a state that was not before. Every word has its own time to be a concept. When it gets favorable conditions, it manifests itself so wider in horizon. Why are some words more powerful than others? Why are some words so popular than others? Is it because they are created so special or what?
The word ‘knowledge’ which is quoted and defined by many scholars is not only a word, but rather it has been transforming society from age to age, leading to what we call civilization or progress and played major role in the welfare of many societies. Defining knowledge as the cause for human progress, there was a time at one point that Greece civilization was the envy of the world, and in the other time it was Egypt and now it is in the hand of Westernization. Why is this civilization moving from one place to the other and from age to age? What is the secret behind all these movements is it because, the Greece became so lazy or the Westerners became intelligent? How do others become intelligent and created their own civilization? Where were the Westerns before they formulated their civilization, where had they been all those years, were they sleeping on their minds or what?
When we think of knowledge, we always associate it with our rational thinking, with the power that investigates and finds out something. As Frank Herbert said, “the beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something that we do not understand”, every thing starts at some point that through the reasoning power one is bestowed, then tries to find out what it is. When it gives sense to oneself, it will be transmitted to other, then will wider its range and encompasses the whole, which will serve as useful information to utilize as needed. There is a big difference between the first person who finds something new and the middle or the last person who is using that knowledge. The first person does two things, creating and using, but others are only users. The degree of knowledge as a word may value as equal, but as a concept totally differs, for one has the different capacity to view in different angle than others.
Nowadays, it is so interesting to learn how the concepts have evolved from time to time that, what one considers as a knowledge is information for the other and vice versa too.
Information according to the definition in the dictionary is “ Knowledge of specific events or situations that has been gathered or received by communication; intelligence or news”. In fact it starts its definition with the word knowledge, and then sharing it with the other element. When one knows about something, and shares it to another entity, it becomes information from the moment it gets transmitted; but it is knowledge even though it is not transmitted. Information requires other entities to participate, but knowledge does not bother about that it is only attached to the object to be known. Information can be the basis for knowledge, and it may lead us to investigate a better reality based on something that may be helpful. But Knowledge can be hidden or shared and does not necessarily needs to be like information does. There is a soft line that demarcates between knowledge and information.
The old school of thoughts in Greece, where the erudite persons had been sourced, like Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Copernicus and the like, who caused the ancient Greece civilization, contributed a great deal of good to the society at the time. School of thought or philosophy has played a major role in promoting the welfare of the society in many ways, and history has no enough pages to befittingly describe the glory and contribution it had made, which results in the findings of many high values for life, raises mankind to a higher realm and keep the reality of existence in such a way that other agents of civilization may learn from it. School of thoughts had played major role in organizing and administering societal communal life and educated mankind to live with values that are highly important and necessary for the time and essentially needed to establish order and harmony among people. Kings and Monarchs had been benefited from the wise and the sage of the past, and they sought guidance from these people. Humanity is still benefiting from the thoughts of the philosophers who widened men’s mentality to understand reality in broader and wider mentality, in which we find in many of our subject books the ideals of these thinkers of that age, which helps upgrading one’s capability in solving individual or social problems.
The other agent of knowledge is science. School of science has proved itself as an efficient means of providing knowledge to many, the people of the earth are benefited from the fruit it has bestowed them. Science has enriched the intellect so gloriously that it assists the world of humanity in many ways possible. Even though the emergence of science, as an independent agent of knowledge, was not foretold or predicted by any agent of knowledge [school of thought] before it, the progress that humanity achieved in this aspect of his existence is tremendous, and will be hard to comprehend and forecast what will happen in the future. Science is a force that destroyed the man made impositions and limitations, that the whole world, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, getting closer and closer, and assisted the world of humanity who lived in despair, with such a hope that the way of thinking we had on “probability of impossibility” to the many aspects or challenges of our life has come so narrowed. Even though, it could not establish and promote security among any given society, and cannot ascend beyond the limit it has naturally been imposed and could not help to solve the communal or societal problem of mankind, which limits its boundary and keeps the fullness of life still incomplete.
The other source of knowledge is Religion, which has proved itself for many years to be the source of guidance and healthy interaction among the members of any given society. Needless to mention, the transforming role it has played in the society from one stage of development to another, and transmuting from one form to the other, from “cooper into gold”. When we consider the history of the Jewish people, who were barbarian, and despised, it is the religion of Moses which upgraded and transformed them into a different level of reality and changed and ascended them to a state what we call know the State of Israel, after two great massacres of their people, one by king Babylon, and the other by Marsha Titus of the Roman Empire. What can be the source of their power for barbaric people like them, who was brought up from nothingness from the land of Egypt and formed such a great empire and source of scientific civilization to the current world we live in? When we consider the people of China, who assumes that it is the centre of the world, and currently we are witnessing that there is a great flow of professionals to China, after they adopted Confucius principles, branch out of the of Buddhism in the time of Han dynasty, they were able to form the infrastructure of the current China, in which they have undergone many useful developments. What we call the Western world which has witnessed such a magnificent transformation in civilization, is not by chance, it is after the release of the power of the message of the Jesus Christ had been transported to the West that they become the recipient and beneficiary of His grace.
Even though there are various means [like states or governments and elders in the society] and sources of acquiring knowledge, the general picture of well identified sources, religion, science and philosophy, had played major role in assisting the world of humanity to move forward [and backward as well] from one stage of development to the other, depending the time, place and the nature of the society they were interacted and served, which mainly vary due to the nature and character of the recipient and the environment as well.
Written by Dereje Amera