Are you knowledgeable? Are you wise? There is a difference

Are you knowledgeable? Are you wise? There is a difference

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Oct 01, 2001

<p>George Anyon, a philosopher, penned this thought, "Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; wisdom is humble that he knows no more."

What is the meaning of this aphorism? Is there a difference between knowledge and wisdom? How does this thought apply to our role as veterinary practitioners?

What is knowledge?

The Greek term "gno'sis", translated as knowledge, indicates familiarity with relevant information (or facts) acquired by personal experience, observation or study. Notice that the root word "gnosis" is found in the English words diagnosis (and diagnote), prognosis and ignorance. In addition to the word "gnosis", the Greek language also contains the word "epi'gno-sis", which is translated as "accurate knowledge". How does the meaning of the word "gnosis" differ from the word "epignosis"? Please consider the following example.

Most people have general knowledge that the kidneys act as a filter to help remove metabolic wastes from the blood. But how many understand the multifaceted functions involved in kidney function including glomerulotubular balance, the countercurrent mechanism of urine concentration and the renin-angiotensin-aldersterone system? Properly trained veterinarians certainly do. Why? Because, veterinarians have comprehensive knowledge of renal physiology. This example illustrates the difference between general knowledge (gnosis) and accurate or full knowledge (epignosis) of a subject.

In context of the practice of veterinary medicine, consider the potential detrimental consequences of lack of accurate knowledge about the causes, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of disorders that affect our patients. Which one of us would knowingly seek the care of a physician who lacked accurate knowledge about the status of our health? In this context, reflect on the often-used statement, "He or she knows just enough to be dangerous". We must never lose sight of the fact that there are some patients we cannot help; there are none we cannot harm.

Accurate knowledge is linked to the attribute of wisdom. How would you compare the attribute of knowledge to the attribute of wisdom?

What is wisdom?

Whereas knowledge consists of our familiarity with relevant information (facts), wisdom consists of the ability to properly apply knowledge. Although wisdom could not exist without knowledge, knowledge would be of little value without wisdom. In fact, facts per se are of little value to our patients. Medical facts become useful only to the extent that they can be applied to the process of defining, solving and/or preventing problems. If we have knowledge, but have not learned how to make practical application of it, we lack wisdom. Gaining wisdom involves continued effort to understand how we can use our knowledge to make accurate, safe and effective diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic decisions.

Wisdom is a blend of many attributes in addition to knowledge. They include understanding, discernment, thinking ability, intelligence, experience, diligence, shrewdness (the opposite of being gullible or naive) and good judgement. Let us examine the attribute of understanding in greater detail.

What is understanding?

Understanding is related to our ability to see how the various aspects of a subject (such as specific functions of the kidneys) relate to each other, and also our ability to grasp how individual parts work together to form the whole (i.e. how individual renal functions work together to maintain homeostasis). To illustrate, we can see the entire forest in addition to individual trees. As with a puzzle, a person who understands a subject can put separate pieces together so that he or she can see the whole picture.

Acquiring understanding calls for contemplating how new information fits in with the knowledge we already have. If we have open minds, age and experience will also help us gain greater understanding. In contrast, selfish pride, stubbornness, self-will and independence can stunt the growth of our power of understanding.

Just as there are different levels of knowledge, there are different levels of understanding. How so? It is one thing to understand a subject for our own use. It is often a greater thing to understand a subject to the extent that we can effectively teach it to others. In fact, thoroughly to teach another is one of the best ways to learn yourself.

A combination of accurate knowledge and understanding fosters wisdom. Therefore, if we strive to care for our patients as we would want physicians to care for us, we will not allow our knowledge and understanding to become stagnant. Won't you agree that our continued awareness of the value of accurate knowledge, understanding and wisdom opens the door to them? Keeping in mind that almost right is still wrong, let us strive to practice 30 to 40 years of veterinary medicine during our professional lifetimes, and not one year 30 to 40 times.

Points to ponder

It is impossible for anyone to learn what he thinks he already knows. (Epictelus)

The recipe for perpetual ignorance is to be satisfied with your opinions, and content with your knowledge.

The person who knows everything has a lot to learn.

Strange how much you've got to know before you know how little you know.

The next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it.

He is wise who knows the sources of knowledge, who knows who has written and where it is found (Archibald Hodge).

What we see depends mainly on what we look for.

Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects (Will Rogers).

In the field of observation, chance only favors the prepared mind (Louis Pasteur).

The thing that counts the most is not what we know, but the ability to use what we know (Leo Spears).

Nine-tenths of wisdom is being wise in time (Theodore Roosevelt).

nAh, the insight in hindsight.

nExperience is a hard teacher; she gives the test first, and the lesson afterward.

Are we teachable, recognizing that we can benefit from the knowledge, understanding and wisdom of others?

Do not become wise in your own eyes (Proverbs 3: 7).

Wisdom is the prime thing. Acquire wisdom; and with all that you acquire, acquire understanding (Proverbs 4:7).<p>