Acquiring a database versus creation of understanding
The success of our production and consumption society is structured upon our highly rationalized capacity to develop, organize and utilize knowledge designed to encourage individuals to become highly specialized experts in narrow specialties. Our industrial base demands experts who require little understanding except in very narrow specialties.
Most parents desire that their children graduate from higher education with a credential entitling them to a good job with a high salary. The student of higher education in the United States graduates with a large database of specialized knowledge designed to permit that graduate to immediately fit into a large organization of specialized professionals.
Our Colleges and Universities have successfully met the demands of society and are the envy of the world. Higher education has learned to produce graduates with a large database of highly specialized knowledge.
Unfortunately the intrinsic value of education has been lost as a result. We have facilitated the maximization of production and consumption at the cost of losing contact with the original value of education.
I do not think that efficient assimilation of information into knowledge is our problem; I think our problem is creating meaning from what we do know.
It appears to me that humans have a great propensity to acquire knowledge but a miniscule capacity for understanding the meaning of that acquired knowledge. I would liken the basic human cognitive nature to be similar to that displayed by the United States Intelligence Agency in the 9/11 fiasco. We had the dots but did not have the capacity to connect the dots. Our educational system displays a vast capacity to graduate individuals with extensive databases but little understanding.
I would say that the intrinsic value of education is wisdom. I would define wisdom as a sensitive synthesis of broad knowledge, deep understanding and solid judgment. Our universities produce individuals capable of developing a great technology but lacking the wisdom to manage the world modified by that technology. Higher education has become a commodity.
The relationship of sex to love as compared with the relationship of knowledge to understanding might help to clarify my point.
Sex and knowledge are easily acquired and easily forgotten. Love and understanding requires an intense investment of the person. Sex can alienate, thus making love more problematic; just as extensive specialized knowledge, which leads to intellectual arrogance, can alienate, thus making understanding problematic. One can get sex but one must create love. Love and understanding are something to seek and work for and may or may not happen. Carl Sagan is quoted as having written; “Understanding is a kind of ecstasy.”
When we speak of a cornucopia of information and our attempt to assimilate that info in a coherent manner so as to facilitate our survival I wonder if we might not be missing something important. Our DNA was developed over millions of years based upon the prevailing environment. We have, as a result of our very successful rationalization of knowledge acquisition developed a far different universe than what our genes have prepared us for.
All of our fundamental capabilities make it possible for us to assimilate and organize great deals of information and to react to that knowledge in ways to assure survival in the world of the past. However, what do we do in this very different world of technology?
Conversion of input stimuli into knowledge was sufficient before but perhaps our future success in the world indicates that we may have to seriously modify our response to the world. Up to this point we have been able to successfully navigate a world where knowledge with little understanding is sufficient. Perhaps such a situation is reaching a climax. Perhaps we must adjust to becoming much more adept at understanding.
The success of our production and consumption society is structured upon our highly rationalized capacity to develop, organize and utilize knowledge; this process is designed to encourage individuals to become highly specialized experts in narrow specialties. Our industrial base demands experts who require little understanding except in very narrow specialties.