Five common misconceptions among people seeking knowledge

On Earth, there are some misconceptions about what knowledge is and how it is obtained. Luckily, we have overcome many misconceptions in our educated, industrialized countries. At least in universities and places were progress is made. So when it gets down to a specific issue, we generally don’t succumb to misconceptions about knowledge very often. However, irrational attitudes towards knowledge, still live on.

You may know the truth deep inside, but if you act on an attitude that is based on a misconception, you still have a hard time to open your mind and grow wise. So if you want a rich mind, surpass the follwing five common misconceptions and the attitudes that follow them.

  1. Knowledge that is practical for achieving goals that align with my/our values, is superior knowledge (False)

One must not confuse knowledge itself with utility or values. If knowledge is to be compared, it should be measured by how accurate it is, so that only the more reliable and accurate knowledge is given higher priority. If you measure the so called “usefulness” of knowledge, you are not measuring knowledge itself, only the applications your values allow for.

Knowledge has value in itself and can expand over time. Knowledge comes first, then utility and possible applications can be analyzed and then finally values can limit the options further. People who cannot appreciate “useless” knowledge are sadly limited to studying everything through a cloudy lens. They do not even know that they do so.

  1. Anecdotes involving life and death, dealing with large numbers or containing some kind of big flashy example, improve the validity of an argument (False)

Logic is not impressed or intimidated when a weak argument mentions how 10´000 person was killed in a wildfire. With mathematics we can add 2 and 2 just as well as we add 6100 and 3052. These things are of admirable integrity in this sense.

Impressive examples can be used to attract the interest of people who “need” to hear the logic, but this political trick does not improve the validity of the logic behind the argument. Now what do I mean with this? Well, think Mythbysters.  They disprove myths in a spectacular way because they are in showbiz, but also because flashy shows convince people who lack the ability to grasp basic science otherwise…

  1. You will attain wisdom most easily by studying the major events of history and the major works of a culture. (Depends on who you are and what you are trying to learn)

People are obviously slightly different and learn in different ways. The one who seeks truth should not overlook any path to insight. One important thing to keep in mind is that the truth can be uncovered by observing tiny things just as well as by observing large things.

Then we have the holy scriptures. Grand works, such as Feynman´s works on physics or Shakespeare´s plays, are undooubtedly impressive, but they only improve the availability of collected knowledge and recorded insights; they do not beam perfect understanding into your head. Of course, you can learn much more from these works much faster than if you had to come up with it yourself (good luck!) but only when you already have gained the insights necessary to decode them. Reading the Bible over and over won´t make you a saint. If you want to be wise, you need two things: an open mind and guts.

Wisdom itself is a transcendental concept altogether. It used to be synonymous with knowledge and ability to discern the truth, but the general meaning of the word changes over time. Insights are collected over time and wisdom is integrated slowly.

  1. Rationality is the supreme quality of the mind. (False)

Rationality is not the supreme quality of the mind. The capacity for the human brain to express and convey emotions of joy and love is in reality something most humans care more about. Even if I or you personally would hold rationality higher, most people do not. Furthermore, from an intellectual viewpoint, the human rational abilities are severely lacking. Luckily we instead have other talents for amassing knowledge, such as the amazing capacity for creative interpretation. If you want to obtain knowledge, try to utilize all faculties of your mind.

(Obs! The faculties of the mind are naturally integrated, but for simplicity we people categorize mental abilities.)

  1. A person who believes in a god, or has some other religious belief, is by default intellectually inferior to an atheist (or vice versa). (False)

This hopefully seems blatantly obvious to you, but as with many other obvious errors of thought, common sense is often suspended until someone points it out.

We are all individuals and therefore think slighlty differently. Humans do not start with the same upbringing, level of available education and so forth.  Furthermore, there are still are limits to human knowledge, so we are free to speculate.

Many believers cannot imagine how atheists view the universe. Many atheists have never had faith and thus do not really know what meaning and implications that faith carries. Therefore neither group can generealize and judge the other. There are some persons who have experienced both sides of course, being both atheists and then believers or the other way around, but these cannot speak for the whole of the group either.

Freedom of thought and speech is not a sure path to truth, but it is a prerequisite to find such paths.

Fortunately, there are many open minded people who can grasp different perspectives and reflect about them while suspending judgment. As long as you question your own belief*, you may be just as bright as someone else, even though you happen to have the wrong idea at the moment. However, if two persons are equally bright and open minded, they should be able to come to the same correct conclusions given enough time.

I for example is both a believer and a university student of natural science. I believe in a divine power (love) and I consider myself some kind of Christian. However, I also understand the atheist perspective quite well.

(RANT: I have comprehended much of modern physics. I understand that heat death, the arbitrary gravitational constant and the seemingly random number of elemental particles could be interpreted as indications that our universe is pointless in a cosmic meaning. I have even experienced existential death angst. (This was probably triggered by a dream that censored everyone of my previous relations, denied all hope of escaping the ocean of nothingness that is death and just left me with a scenario where I commit suicide just to avoid a much more painful end.) Anyway, I do understand the fear of death and I am not just running away from it, which some atheists believe all religious people are.)

The problem is not that people have different beliefs, the potential problem is that people´s beliefs lead to them having different values. This becomes a problem when these values clashes.

*If you ask me for a good critique of Christianity, I would have you watch interviews with Bertrand Russel, a philosopher who I completely respect. He discussed some good arguments against religion, faith and Christianity in particular during his lifetime and he completely rejected an afterlife and such as a rational being. Every Christian should try their faith form time to time. If it doesn´t make sense to you, let it go and seek answers elsewhere.
Bertrand Russel on why he is not a Christian (38:56)
Bertrand Russel on religion (3:22)
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