ARTICLE

How to move from ignorance to wisdom

Learn how to gather information, apply your knowledge through real-life experience, and transcend your personal limitations.

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Difficulty level: hard

Category: Overall personal growth

Wisdom is described as the quality of having knowledge, experience, understanding, and good judgment.

Our journey through life can and should be a process that starts from ignorance and slowly moves towards a state of wisdom as we move forward. As we gather information, gain experience, and deepen our understanding, we become wiser and can make better choices. Or at least, there is that possibility.

Of course, you can be wise in one area and ignorant in another – or any stage in between.

This raises the question: How does one move from ignorance to wisdom? What are the steps and processes involved?

This article explores these questions in a bit more depth.

What are some of the benefits ascribed to a state of wisdom?

Ignorance is bliss, or so the saying goes. But based on the benefits below, wisdom seems better. A state of wisdom is characterized by:

Being wise seems like a pretty good place to be.

Let’s look at a simplified representation of the journey from ignorance to wisdom.

The journey from ignorance to wisdom

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.
Isaac Asimov

The road from ignorance to wisdom can be long, and it is not clear when you arrive.

Paradoxically, the truly wise person will be aware of all that he or she does not understand and so might never acknowledge that a state of wisdom has been attained. 

For example, Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo, asked to be buried in his white instead of his black belt. He wanted to be remembered as a learner and not as the judo master he was.

Thus, the true value of wisdom lies in the journey of transformation from one state to the next and not in reaching an arbitrary destination.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
William Shakespeare

The journey of moving from ignorance to wisdom can be visualized as follows:
(Read a more elaborate description of the different steps and processes below the infographic).

Infographic about the process of moving from ignorance to wisdom
Infographic outlining the journey from ignorance to wisdom

Step 1: Ignorance

Everyone enters the world in a state of not-knowing. You lack information, insight, and understanding. You are unaware that you are unaware. You are unconsciously incompetent.

There’s often beauty to the state of ignorance, to the child-like innocence before it is challenged. This is an example from the movie Moana:

A state of ignorance is also where Frodo finds himself at the start of the Lord of The Rings trilogy. In the video below Frodo lives carefree in the Shire: 

The process of gathering information

To move from ignorance to knowledge, you must first gather information. This can be done in a variety of ways, including reading books, researching online, talking to experts, and observing the world around you with deliberate awareness.

This is not always a process that is initiated voluntarily. You may be forced to learn more about challenges in your life in order to deal with them effectively.

This is how Frodo learns about the Ring of Power from Gandalf. He did not seek out this knowledge himself but was confronted with The One Ring through the actions of his uncle Bilbo. 

Frodo gathers data from talking to Gandalf about the Ring:

Frodo realizes he doesn’t know much about the Ring and the threat that it poses. He has become consciously incompetent.

The difference between the level of knowledge and understanding between a master and an initiate is vast.

The clip below shows a conversation between the wise master (Oogway) and the student who just started the journey (Po). The apprentice comes to terms with the realization that he’s ignorant:

Step 2: Knowledge

The road from ignorance to wisdom first passes through knowledge. 

Data has been gathered, sometimes in large amounts, and there is an intellectual understanding of the information.

This is the stage where many people find themselves on most topics.

You may have read a lot of books and articles, watched numerous videos, and followed an abundance of courses… but something is missing. You may think you are competent, but you are not.

You have not internalized and practiced the information through real-life experience. 

In the following clip, Neo thinks he knows Kung Fu because ample information about the martial art has been uploaded to his brain:

The process of experiencing

You move from knowledge to understanding through experience. Depending on the subject matter, this process may be quick or take years.

Examples:

  • Instead of learning about meditation, you practice meditation in different situations and experience the challenges and benefits first-hand.
  • Instead of watching videos about how to code, you practice writing a piece of software and experience how difficult it is to foresee all bugs or integrate other important aspects, such as the design of the user interface.
  • Instead of reading about the power of forgiveness, you have to forgive someone who has really wronged you. 

Through experience, your rational knowledge is used in the context of a broader situation. This forces integration into the bigger picture, much like a single puzzle piece must be attached to the rest of the puzzle. 

Experience deepens the connections in your brain that store the initial information. The data you gathered comes to life.

In the following video, Morpheus makes Neo experience that he doesn’t know Kung Fu as well as he thinks: 

Next, Moana experiences that knowing how to sail and understanding how to sail are two very different things:

In The Lord of The Rings, Frodo experiences first-hand the dangers and the malice of the Ring of Power. He can’t share this experience with anyone who has never put on the ring.

Through the process of real-life experience, you oscillate back and forth between a state of unconscious competence and conscious competence.

As soon as you are confident that you finally understand, this conviction is invariably challenged. 

I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I experience and I understand.
Maria Montessori

Step 3: Understanding

Any fool can know. The point is to understand.
Albert Einstein

When you truly understand something, you:

  • Have insight that you can use in future situations.
  • Understand how information is organized.
  • Can integrate your insights into a more complex body of knowledge.
  • Are aware of the complexities and limitations of your insights.
  • Can think critically about the subject and challenge your own assumptions and ideas.

You are consciously competent.

The road from understanding to wisdom passes through the process of transcendence.

The process of transcending

Through transcendence, you overcome the limitations of your personal experiences.

You use hindsight to reflect on the fundamental principles that were at work in different situations.

You discern causes from conditions and learn to bring outer phenomena back to their origin. 

You begin to see the matrix that underlies what before seemed like outer reality:

Gandalf shows Frodo the importance of transcending his current predicament. He understands the fundamental forces of nature that are a work in the world:

Moana realizes what lies below the surface of her arch-enemy and opens her rival’s heart to this truth:

Step 4: Wisdom

There a many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

A wise person can face a highly complex situation, focus on what matters most, and intervene appropriately.

He or she is typically calm, serene, and centered.

Deep truths are understood and embodied intuitively. Wisdom is characterized by a state of unconscious competence.

To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.
Lao Tzu

The process of sharing

The journey from ignorance to wisdom does not stop with the wise individual.

Through sharing his or her wisdom, new insights are sparked, meaningful social connections are fostered, and the world is made a better place.

Shared wisdom opens new possibilities for others, and thus the process can unfold anew and evolve.

Examples:

Frodo, sharing his experiences at the end of The Lord of The Rings:

Moana opens up a world of new possibilities for her tribe through her personal journey of transformation:

Conclusion

You now know the way from ignorance to wisdom. It passes through knowledge and understanding.

To move from one stage to the next, you must gather information, apply your knowledge through real-life experiences, and transcend your personal limitations. 

We can not show you the way. You have to experience it for yourself. 

Good luck, and keep moving forward!

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