Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Depiction of Mansa Musa, the richest person to have ever lived, in the Catalan Atlas by Abraham Cresques, 1375, Mallorca. Biblioteche Nationale France/public domain
Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
— Proverbs 24:3-4
The 'house' referred to here is likely not bricks and mortar but more like the family home. It could equally be applied to ones own soul, or in broader terms, one's psyche—"the soul, mind, spirit, or invisible animating entity which occupies the physical body."1 We grow in wisdom, knowledge and understanding by paying attention. But these aspects of learning are not equal.
Wisdom and understanding help us to establish who we are, and what our potential is. Together they create a strong foundation. I see the two qualities though as occurring in the opposite order as described here. We begin by seeking to understand—the world, the laws of science, nature, for sure, but most importantly other people, or simply, the other. It is through cultivating our relationship with the other, especially those others different to ourselves that we grow in wisdom. Wisdom itself can be thought of as God scattered throughout humankind, and throughout nature both animate and inanimate. The more we come to understand that which is not ourself the closer we move towards God, to wisdom.
Knowledge is different. The description here of knowledge as precious and pleasant riches reminds us that while it is good to surround ourselves with beauty, there is also a danger that our chambers can become over-filled. We may accumulate too much, and be afraid to let go of anything. We can be hoarders of knowledge as well as objects. When we are filled with knowing we have no room for not-knowing, and it is this not-knowing that moves us to seek understanding. Too much knowledge takes away understanding, and our foundation of wisdom becomes eroded, unstable.
Today, it is knowledge that is the curse of science. Popular science claims to "know", we have arrogant, accumulative scientists holding tight to their answers, their facts, their truth, as if 'their' is 'the'. Fewer and fewer embrace the mystery, the place where the not-knowing lies, the alternative answers, the new awareness.