Knowledge, Intellect, and Wisdom: Defining Education in a Google World

Knowledge (information), Intelligence (application), and Wisdom (judgment) constitute the sequence sought in education and, as Piaget has taught us, the learning process is directly connected to this tripartite configuration of information gathering, sorting, and utility.  An elderly colleague of mine at Oxford University, during a long conversation over a cup of tea and biscuits, pointed out to me, with some sentimental musing, that since the appearance of the internet and particularly Google, the definition of what was once thought of normatively as research scholarship has drastically changed.   Indeed, he referred to it as a blatant “transmogrification” of the scholar, of research and of scholarship itself.  The Larry Page and Sergey Brin (creators of Google) world of Google searches, utilizing Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf’s (creators of TCP/IP) protocols to transmit data over networks, has produced a world wherein the globalization of knowledge access and application has accelerated exponentially.

Inevitably and unquestionably, what was once thought to be “an education” must necessarily be redefined in light of this universal, instantaneously available, and virtually limitless store of information (knowledge, if you will).  As we know, intelligence is not merely information but the capacity to utilize and apply it.  Information application is to the intellect what information access is to knowledge.  However, the final test of a “good education” is neither knowledge nor intellect, neither information nor application, but rather the exercise of “judgment” in the handling of information and in the application of knowledge.   The old adage that wisdom comes with age is correct only to the extent that age (or the passage of time) contributes to judgment relative to knowledge and intellect, information and application.  When literally everyone has access to the same information storage pool gathered and made available over the internet through Google, in particular, access to knowledge can be considered education.   Furthermore, the application of knowledge or the utilization of information may be called intelligence, but only in the responsible and discretionary use of information and its proper and productive application can we identify wisdom.

Once upon a time, the scholar was someone who knew how to gather information from the tomes deposited in the library and the intelligent individual was the one who combined the skills of information retrieval with utilization and application of that knowledge to a given situation.  Evidence of wisdom was then a product of both knowledge (information accessed and retrieved) and intelligent application to situations responsibly and productively.

The practical implications of this transformation of information access and utilization by the global community necessarily call for a redefinition of education itself.  The smart person may be able to access a world of readily available information via Google and the intelligent person may likewise be able to apply this information to a given situation, for good or ill, but the wise person is the one who retrieves information and applies it responsibly and constructively for the betterment of the world community.   Knowledge is readily available to anyone who wishes and intelligence is merely the application of that knowledge to a given task or situation.   But wisdom constitutes the culmination of both knowledge and intellect for the good of all.

Without question the knowledge base of the world community has accelerated exponentially thanks to the internet, and Google, and clearly the intelligence needed to apply this knowledge has been evidenced in the explosion of products and services, research and development around the world.  What we are still awaiting is a universally recognized and acknowledged increase in the responsible and productive utilization of both knowledge and intelligence in the form of a meaningful exercise in judgment individually and globally, namely, signs of wisdom.


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