Christina Hendricks
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My 10 year old son asked today: “what is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?” One might think that as a professional philosopher I’d have a good answer. One would be wrong. Especially since I was still waking up after only a little sleep the night before due to a very early morning virtual meeting with colleagues in another part of the world.

So, any suggestions to help my son out? How would you try to explain it to a 10-year-old?

The issue is that wisdom can be defined in so many different ways that I had a hard time with the question. I mean, I have a *sense* of a difference but in my sleep deprived brain (which is still its current state) I couldn’t articulate it well.

@chendricks in D&D, Inteligence is what you know about the world and wisdom is your capacity to get new knowledge about the world.

@chendricks theres a joke that goes knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing it still shouldn’t go in a fruit salad.

Or, in more practical terms, wisdom is taking knowledge and doing something useful with it

@chendricks obviously thats a bit of a simplified/reductive way of looking at things but its not the worst answer, either :)

@Satsuma I like it. I think I said something along the lines of information vs how to use it or why it’s valuable. But I was so sleep deprived I really don’t remember. And I think the tomato/fruit salad thing is a nice illustration for his age!

@chendricks
How about talking about knowledges as in there are many different approaches to understanding life always in transformation, I understand Knowledge as a very colonialist notion....
peerproduction.net/issues/issu
Does this make any sense?

@natacha Yes, it definitely makes sense to me. I think it could be understood at my son’s level as well.

@chendricks Good one! Maybe knowledge is more related to facts and concrete things and wisdom has more to do with life experience and intuition.

@ralph Yes, that could make sense. I’ve definitely heard wisdom used in a way that fits that.

@chendricks
The simplistic -very simplistic- example I like is the tomato analogy that goes around. Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in a fruit salad.

In less fruity terms, knowledge is having a grasp on information. Wisdom is knowing how to use that information to best effect in a given context.

@chendricks
My apologies for the redundant post, morning happened and I failed to read the reply thread before I commented.

@Chris_VriesemaMagnuson No worries! I like what you added at the end as a general principle.

@Chris_VriesemaMagnuson I hadn’t heard this before; someone else said it too. I like it. And the less fruity explanation makes a lot of sense as a general principle to explain it.

@chendricks In one way wisdom looks like a kind of knowledge (the sort taught at the school of hard knocks?) in that we can accumulate wisdom, read books of epigrammatic wisdom, etc.

But then there are those 'Gods of the Copybook Headings' moments when you realise that having 'known' something from your mother's knee, now you actually understand it too.

(I'm reminded of those discussions in Plato about whether virtue can be taught.)

@chendricks I've always thought of it as raw information vs. the practical application of information. A bit like science vs. technology.
Very advanced thinking from one so young!

@LeftCoast Yes, this makes sense. And I agree...I was surprised he was asking this question at 10! I need to ask him what brought it up for him.

@chendricks knowledge is just knowing things but wisdom is knowing of how to actually use that knowledge

@chendricks maybe wisdom is knowledge that humans have to experience to learn: things that you can't be told. Using a hypothetical AI as an example, we would probably teach it those things manually meaning those things are a form knowledge and we wouldn't call the AI wise. Or would we?

@jasondclinton That’s an intriguing way to think about it. It does make sense to me to distinguish between things you can just be told or memorize or that can be programmed, and things that can’t. It makes me wonder about what sorts of things the latter category would contain.

@chendricks Most of the replies to this so far seem to me to be suggesting that wisdom requires knowledge, but I'm not sure that it does. I tend to think that wisdom is demonstrated when a connection is drawn between at least two things (A and B), or when the quality of such a connection is appraised — which is confident with the other replies — but I also think that connections themselves may be considered without considering what they connect.

@chendricks A tree branch may connect fruit to the trunk of its tree, and we may consider the qualitative fitness/robustness of that branch with respect to what it's connecting (the fruit and the trunk; how well it supports the fruit whilst not applying too much force to the trunk), but we can also consider the nature of the branch itself (it may be falling apart due to rot). In the same way, wisdom need not be considered with respect to what knowledge it connects; also its connective potential.

@chendricks ... Now I'm second-guessing this and worrying both about how you'd convey this to a 10 yr old and whether it's misleading or not. 😅

I suspect that I've described a process of wisdom application instead of what wisdom is. 😥 I'm a bit tripped up over whether I'm to describe a stock of established wisdom (which we might call knowledge, or the seeming succession of rules used over time in considerations of qualitative fitness) or the process, manner, or means of considering qual fit.

@bthall I think of wisdom more as a kind of process of what you do with something rather than a stock of items or rules, myself. But I think some may use the term in the latter sense. I’m trying to think of stereotypical examples of “wise” people and I often picture an older person who has a lot of knowledge. Could be like a static, established set of data they have.

@chendricks I also think that a wisdom process is the more important thing here, rather than the stock of "wise" pre-determinations.

@bthall @chendricks

Maybe there's an element of winging it so well you look as though you know what you're doing.

Knowledge: "Oh look, a poison dart frog."

Wisdom: "I don't know what that frog is, but I'm not daft enough to touch creatures I don't know about."

@GardenOfForkingPaths @bthall This is great! And actually a good description of wisdom I think. It reminds me of Socrates a bit, who said he was wiser than others insofar as he doesn’t think he knows what he doesn’t know. Would also include understanding what not to do when you realize you don’t know something.

@bthall Really interesting and philosophical ideas here. I wonder if, though, we can even see the connections in terms of conceptual things or knowledge or information without understanding something of what that data is that is being connected. If we can’t grasp the data he can we see even *that* it’s connected, is what I’m asking.

@chendricks That's a good point. I was thinking about the consideration of the nature of a connection (between things), but I suspect that one might need experience/knowledge of such a connection before considering that. 😥

@chendricks
It's simple.
Knowledge is knowing facts.
Wisdom is knowing how to use the facts.

Beyond that you are making it too complicated. Making things too complicated has been beneficial to your career as a professional philosopher.

@chendricks Knowledge is knowing about things. Wisdom is knowing how to be and act.

@jcbrand How to be and act...I like that. It can bring in ethics, among other things.

@chendricks perhaps the difference between knowing something, and that something that you know changing you / how you feel and see the world / what questions you can now ask?

@danielscardoso Oh, that’s a good one! I hadn’t thought along those lines before, but it’s an interesting distinction and way to conceive of wisdom.

@chendricks thank you! ^^ Let us know how you ended up explaining the difference!

@chendricks Wisdom is the ability to make sound decisions based on knowledge gained in the past.

@h I like this. I was trying to think of a way to explain the difference between knowledge and food judgment to my son, and I think this gets at a good portion of that.

@chendricks Then you have to explain to him what a 'sound decision' means, but I trust you can take over from there on :-)

@chendricks A whole another rabbit hole opens if you try to explain the difference between knowledge, data, information, and disinformation. But that's probably a few years ahead for your kid 😉

@h Yes, and now that I have a bit more sleep than I did then I think I can do it justice.

@chendricks knowledge is something you can find on Google, Wisdom is what someone who is paying attention gains from life’s experiences.
Or... knowledge is having the right answers, wisdom is asking the right questions

@clint That last part is a great way of thinking about philosophy itself I think! Someone else also mentioned what one can gain from experience vs static resources and this reinforces that idea to me. It makes me think about what is significantly different about learning in those two ways, and about what we “have” or can do as a result of each kind that is different from the other.

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