Friday, June 1, 2012

Knowledge & Sorrow

“For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
Ecclesiastes (Ḳohelet) 1:18, attributed to King Solomon

King Solomon: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction,” Proverbs 1;17 says. King Solomon was known far and wide for his wisdom, biblical sources say.
Artist: Isaak Ashkenazy [1856-1902]
Source: Wikipedia

At its very infancy as a mainstream apparatus, the Internet was promoted as the “Information Superhighway,” which it has become for many. There is, however, a large difference between information and knowledge. Knowledge is many steps above information; it is the application of information directed toward a particular useful and I would add moral and good end. That necessarily means that humans must, and I use this word with clear emphasis, acquire abilities to read the information against established methods of critique, interpretation and analysis, and always filter it through a moral lens. 

Not everyone writes with good intentions; this becomes abundantly clear when looking through only a small part of the millions of articles that form the database of information on the Web. Some of it, to use a Yiddish expression of literary opinion, is pure drek.

Does it necessarily follow that we ought to not try to gain knowledge? Or to avoid the Internet?  Of course not. For ignorance is not bliss, and the fool knows nothing. But knowledge, which brings many rewards, also beings with it the necessary knowledge that humanity does not and has not (yet) lived up to its potential. This explains, partly, the reason for the sorrow.

We feel sorrow, sometimes of a very deep nature, when we come to view and feel the darkness of evil, whether nearby or at a distance. When we realize that hatred exists. When we know that we have become the targets of hate for no rational reason. It can debilitate us, as hate has the power to do. The best in us compel us, prod us, to carry on, nevertheless doing the good that we know that we have to do. That we must do.

It's important to carry on. To do good. How we achieve the means and mode to transport ourselves out of this state of sorrow is what many books on human nature and psychology discuss. All kinds of books; some scientific, some religious, and some a mixture of both. The trick is to not deny the reality around us—by escaping it—and yet not remain in the state of sorrow. Sorrow is both an emotion and a means to knowledge, allowing us to peer at a side of humanity and its weaknesses. Yet, it is not a final state of being.

The ancient writers were not ignorant of the human condition and offer us sage advice. One of the most noted ancient Jewish writers was King Solomon, about whom the Jewish Virtual Library 
writes: "The biblical King Solomon was known for his wisdom, his wealth and his writings. He became ruler in approximately 967 B.C.E. and his kingdom extended from the Euphrates River in the north to Egypt in the south. His crowning achievement was the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem."

Credited with writing the Book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, in his role as the Great Preacher and Teacher, came to the conclusion that the singular most important knowledge a human can acquire, is a knowledge of God. As one of his proverbs points out, "such is the beginning of wisdom." Without such knowledge, a human can pursue all manners of pleasure, both sensual and intellectual, and yet fail to find full satisfaction. This thought will surprise some, and infuriate others. I am no exception, often struggling with its implications.

What are we to make of this? One thought comes to mind. Hovering above this spiritual thought is that we are more than material beings, and thus material pursuits alone will fail to fulfill us completely—only partially. There is a lot of evidence, chiefly personal and anecdotal from many sources, to support this assertion.

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