The terms ‘intelligence’, ‘knowledge’, and ‘wisdom’ are often used interchangeably, but they have very different connotations which can mean different things in different contexts. I write this post mostly because intelligence and wisdom are two abilities in Dungeons and Dragons, and many players often have difficulty determining when one should be used versus the other.
Path, Destination, and Choice
Intelligence, Knowledge, and Wisdom are the value judgments on three essential steps of the thought process. Think of the thought process as the act of walking a path to get to a destination then deciding what to do afterwards. One must follow the Intelligent path, to reach the Knowledgeable conclusion, and ultimately make the Wise choice.
Intelligence is true thought. It is traveling the right path. It is the ability to think towards the correct conclusion. It is how one gains knowledge.
Knowledge is true conclusions. It is the right destination. It is correct conclusion of a thought process. It is what is known.
Wisdom is true decisions. It is making the right choice. It is the result of the value judgement you place on the conclusion. It is what should be done with that knowledge.
Often times the three go hand in hand, but this is not always the case. It is possible to have a lot of one quality, and very little of the others. And yet all three are essential values.
Imagine a graph, any graph of any data. An intelligent person can create the data, a knowledgeable person can tell you the result of the data, and wise person can tell you what should be done based on that data.
Intelligence is the ability to take information and work through it to reach conclusions. It is very closely linked to creativity, because both are a mental means to an end. Intelligence often leads to Knowledge, and subsequently Wisdom, but it is a distinctly different quality.
Intelligence is extremely valuable because it gives people the ability to think for themselves. People without Intelligence are forced to trust in others to do their thinking for them in order to reach conclusions on which they can base their decisions. They must trust the Knowledge of others, and the Wisdom resulting from that Knowledge. This unfortunately makes people vulnerable to being lead by or believing in the wrong information. Intelligence allows someone to reach conclusions themselves and make what is the best decision for themselves.
However, Intelligence itself does not necessarily lead to Knowledge or Wisdom. For example, there are many Intelligent people who do not choose to exercise their Intelligence and thus do not reach conclusions at all. Or even worse, there are Intelligent people who reach the ‘wrong’ conclusions. The best example I can think of are conspiracy theorists. These people are actually Intelligent. They are meticulous about finding evidence and often very practical in reaching their conclusions. They can back up their claims with a lot of (what they believe to be) evidence. They are incredibly good at thinking towards a destination. It is unfortunately just the wrong destination.
Knowledge is the correct destination. Yes, if one is Intelligent they are more likely to also be Knowledgeable. But the great thing about Knowledge is that one does not need to have Intelligence to have Knowledge.
Someone can have the Knowledge, for example, that there are 9 planets, without ever having seen them themselves. One can have the Knowledge that putting metal in a microwave will make the microwave explode without ever having done it themselves.
Knowledge is an important value it tells people what is true without them having to figure it out for themselves. It relieves them of the burden of thinking. I know that sentence sounds bad. But before you object too much and start to denounce and combat the idea of ‘Sheeple’, hear me out.
An individual would be hard pressed to have all of the Intelligence of the world. People need to be able to specialize in their paths. Knowledge without Intelligence is trusting in other specialists when they tell us what is true about a subject we know little about. This trust allows us to specialize our own Intelligence, and not waste our limited mental time trying to reach conclusions that others have already reached for us. This is the foundation of the public’s trust in science . Most people do not understand how various aspects of science work. But we have seen ample evidence that the conclusions reached by science are true. Thus, knowing those conclusions is considered to be Knowledgeable, regardless of our personal understanding of the specific subject.
Wisdom is not just a choice, it is the ‘correct’ choice. It is not how you gain your knowledge, or what the knowledge is, it is what you do with it.
Think of the typical ‘wise man’ or ‘wise woman’. The people that come to my mind are people like Ghandi, Buddhist Monks, the Pope or even characters like Gandalf. While they may be very intelligent as well, what makes these people wise is that they have used their intelligence to reach valuable ends. Thus, they are people we trust and look to for answers; people who have found meaning and purpose in their Knowledge.
It is possible to be wise despite not being very Intelligent or Knowledgeable. One can see the value in a conclusion, without knowing how that conclusion was reached, or what the conclusion is. For example, it is wise not to put metal in a microwave, even if you don’t know what will happen when you do, and even if you don’t know how a microwave works. If one can see the value in making a choice, it does not matter if a person discovered that value themselves.
Wisdom is an important value regardless of Intelligence or Wisdom because it shows one how to live ‘correctly’ with whatever amount of Knowledge or Intelligence one has. Whether it be moral Wisdom, or practical Wisdom it is another necessary value.
To use some extreme examples, lets take the Uni-bomber, or even Hitler. Very Intelligent people, very Knowledgeable people. But we would not consider them Wise. The decisions they made based on the conclusions that they reached were horrible. Not something that any person should look up to.
Intelligence, Knowledge, and Wisdom are all very distinct and important values. One must have a balance of all three values. A lack of Intelligence will leave one unable to think for themselves. A lack of Knowledge will result in being un-informed. A lack of Wisdom can result in bad decision making.
And now I will leave you with a few quotes to sum up my long winded thinking into short, easy to remember phrases: