A Few Keys to Gaining Knowledge

A number of years ago I had an interesting exchange with a friend who was going through some challenges in life. I was giving them some advice that they didn’t like. I then suggested that it would be good if they spent some time coming up with some alternative ideas as well. They agreed and we decided to discuss this again in a few days.

When we met again, they hadn’t come up with any alternatives. When I asked them about what they had done to try to come up with other options they told me they had spent lots of time thinking, but no matter how hard they tried they still weren’t able to come up with any new ideas. This was the interesting part to me.

Where do ideas come from? Where does knowledge come from? Neither of these things come from an empty vessel. If we have never dealt with a specific topic before we are unlikely to be able to simply think our way to knowledge on that topic. We will be much better served by doing some research on the topic, asking others who have knowledge or experience, reading books and other articles, and gathering as much information as we can. This is the first step. I like to think of this first step as curiosity.

Stay curious, be skeptical

Once we have gathered a bunch of information on a topic, the next step is organization. This is the part where we critically review what we have learned. We try to put some structure around this information. We simplify by discarding the parts that we don’t think fit. This organization of information is what leads to the formation of thoughts.

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Now that we have all this information and we have organized it into some initial rudimentary thoughts. The next step is to act upon these thoughts. Try them out. Experiment upon them. Note what works, and what doesn’t. This is where we really start to create knowledge, this is also where things get really difficult. How do we determine if the thought we acted upon was what created the desired outcome? Would a different thought have also created the same outcome? Maybe the thought we were acting upon had nothing to do with the outcome we received. Or if we look at this from a different angle, maybe the thought failed to create the desired outcome, but then how do we know if the thought was what failed or if it was the execution of the thought that caused the failure, or if it failed for some completely unrelated reason?

As we continue to experiment on our thoughts, we can then discard some of the thoughts, refine others, and continue to create new ones. We can also continue to collect new information, organize things in new ways, and continue to repeat this cycle for as long as is necessary.

Remember to stay curious, be skeptical of your thoughts, and assume there is always more to learn.

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” — Daniel J. Boorstin

“To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” — Lao Tse

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Confirmation bias
Wikipedia: Survivorship bias
Wikipedia: List of cognitive biases

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The purpose of “The Couple Project” is to learn more about what makes a strong marriage or relationship. We share what we are learning, which ideas we are trying, and which ideas helped improve our relationship. We realize not everything that works for us will work for you, but we still hope you will find our journey valuable.

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