What are the Differences Between Knowledge, Wisdom, and Insight?
As a human being, knowledge, wisdom, and insight are pretty beautiful qualities to possess to live a great life.
Surely you are familiar with these words as you must have heard them over a million times when you listen to people speak or in the books you’ve read.
But being familiar with something doesn’t necessarily mean you know what it is.
So what comes to your mind exactly when you hear someone say “knowledge is power”? Or let’s say you wake up one morning, you are going through your social media feed, and you come across a post telling you how you need to master the “art of wisdom” to grow old well. Do you really know what they are talking about?
So what do you do? Do you shunt them all together as the same words? Or you at least think they are different, but you can’t explain exactly how?
These words are indeed connected in some ways, but they are not at all synonymous with each other. You can’t use them interchangeably.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, knowledge is defined as”the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association.
Wisdom is “a wise attitude, belief, or course of action.” While insight is “the power or act of seeing into a situation” or “the act or result of apprehending the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively.”
Before we delve into what differentiates knowledge, wisdom, and insight, perhaps a deeper understanding of each term would help you start looking at each term uniquely and differently from one another. And that’s what I will be sharing with you right now
Knowledge is “facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education” or “awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.”
Knowledge can either be practical or theoretical. You acquire practical knowledge by doing, and you acquire theoretical knowledge by just learning about something.
HOW DO YOU ACQUIRE KNOWLEDGE? WHERE DOES KNOWLEDGE COME FROM?
There are five major ways in which you can acquire knowledge.
1. Perception: perception has to do with the senses. It has to do with the things you experience by seeing and hearing. Perception and experience go hand in hand. How? Experience is the most basic source of knowledge. And perception is experiencing things first hand with your senses. There is a view that supports experience as being the primary source of knowledge, and it is called empiricism. So if you support this view, you are called an empiricist.
2. Reason: Reason is a thing of the mind. Reason is the ability of your mind to think, understand, and then be able to form a logical judgment. There are two ways you can acquire knowledge by reason. One is by making a judgment based on existing knowledge, while the other is a priori. A priori knowledge is not dependent on experience to arrive at truths. Rather, it is based on pure reason. For instance, in mathematics, 2+2=4. You don’t need any kind of experience to arrive at this kind of judgment. It is totally based on reasoning. “A girl is a female” is another example of a priori knowledge. If you support the view that people acquire knowledge basically through reason, then you are a rationalist. And the view is called rationalism.
3. Introspection: Introspection is a form of perception. Introspection is an individual thing. There are some things no one else can know about you except you. Introspection is the knowledge you get about yourself when you evaluate yourself. For instance, you know you are tired, or you know you need to use the toilet. Simply put, introspection is the first-hand knowledge of yourself when you study yourself.
4. Memory: When you experience or learn things, they are stored in your mind. Your memory helps you to receive knowledge, make sense of it, retain it, and retrieve it whenever you need it. Your memory is your primary source of knowledge since it helps you receive and retain knowledge. However, it is not the primary source of acquiring knowledge because sometimes the memory fails, and that’s when you go to alternative sources such as the internet, books, or people.
Figure 1: How human memory works. Image source: Weebly
5. Testimony: If you would take your time to reflect on it this moment, you would probably realize that almost everything you know is learned from the testimony of people around you. While growing up, your parents told you a lot of things. Your teachers at school taught you a lot of things. You listen to the news and read books. You didn’t experience most of the things you know first-hand, people taught you. So a lot of the knowledge you have gained and will gain were and will be by testimony.
PERSPECTIVES ON KNOWLEDGE
Different groups of people see knowledge differently.
If you are a scientist, knowledge means a different thing to you.
And if you are a religious person, maybe a Christian, you will see knowledge differently. Scientists use what is called the scientific method to acquire knowledge about our physical world.
In Christianity, people see knowledge as divine, gotten from God, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Muslims say knowledge is from God. The Jews say knowledge is the most important thing you can acquire. Philosophers say knowledge is partial because it’s inexhaustible.
Intentionally or unintentionally, you are gaining knowledge every second, every minute, every day. It’s a continuous thing. It is how you apply or use the knowledge that you’ve gained that you start to develop wisdom or not.
Wisdom has a wide range of definitions. Like knowledge, it means different things to different groups of people.
A very well known definition of wisdom is the one by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He defined wisdom as “the right use knowledge.”
There is no wisdom without knowledge, but you can have knowledge and still not qualify to be described as a wise person. From Spurgeon’s definition, you can see that knowledge comes first before wisdom. And it is not wisdom yet if you haven’t used or applied knowledge the right way.
It’s not everything you know that is beneficial to you. Some knowledge is good, and some others are harmful. So the ability to discern which is right and what is wrong and then act on what is right is wisdom. It is the ability to discern knowledge that applies to your life situation and the one that is not.
Although we are told that wisdom means rightfully applying or using knowledge. To apply or use it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to always act. You see, wisdom sounds like a complicated thing when, in fact, it isn’t. As humans, we always try to complicate things sometimes.
Wisdom is as simple as knowing there is a vehicle speeding in your direction and waiting for it to pass before crossing to the other side of the road.
Sometimes, wisdom isn’t rushing into actions just because you think you know what it is that you are supposed to do. It is also wise if you can relax, wait, observe, pause before taking a step of action.
Wisdom is not an innate thing. Nobody has it. But through experience, you can acquire more wisdom and become wiser.
So wisdom isn’t something you possess, like owning a personal belonging. You weren’t born with it, and it isn’t passed down to you through family genes. Wisdom is a verb. You do wisdom. You cannot obtain wisdom like you obtain a goal, just like knowledge, it is a continuous thing. So when you act on knowledge, you become wiser.
HOW DO YOU ACQUIRE WISDOM?
If you are the kind of person who likes to learn and discover new things, and you like to reflect on the process, then you can gain wisdom.
An open-minded person who is not afraid to learn new things and step out of their comfort zone will easily gain wisdom.
If you learn to look up to wise people if you’re not afraid to ask them questions, that itself is an act of wisdom.
Some characters, when you display them, can project an image of you to others that tells them you are a wise person. If you practice humility, if you think before acting, if you are capable of learning from your mistakes, these are ways you grow in wisdom.
You acquire wisdom and increase in it, the more you know, and the more you can use what you know rightfully. It’s as simple as that.
PERSPECTIVES ON WISDOM
It’s a normal thing for you to view things differently from another person. It doesn’t in any way mean you are wrong or right. Neither does it mean they are wrong or right. There are different perspectives on wisdom.
There is the mythological and philosophical perspective, the educational perspective, the psychological perspective, and the religious perspective. Despite all these varying perspectives, though, they all have something in common; wisdom is rightfully using knowledge.
Has there ever been a moment in your life when you just know something? Have you ever just known the solution to a problem or gotten an answer to a difficult question?
Those are moments of insight. It is like a lightbulb suddenly coming on inside of your head—a eureka moment.
Insight is coming to an understanding of something without anyone having to explain it to you. It is a deep form of knowledge.
By definition, insight is the ability “to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something.” Insight is a deep and accurate perception of a situation or a problem. It is seeing better. It’s intuition.
Insight is knowledge but not the kind that you get by learning or experiencing things.
This kind of knowledge is sudden, opening your mind to an understanding of things you had no idea about just a moment ago. It’s like a sixth sense.
Insight can be developed, just like you can add to your knowledge or increase in wisdom. You can also grow in insight. For instance, you can’t compare a doctor who has been in the profession for 30 years with another doctor who is just finishing his or her internship.
The latter could look at a patient and be able to tell you right away what the problem is without running tests and check-ups. But a doctor fresh out of internship might not be able to do that.
The years spent in his profession have built that ability in him to be able to attune to all sorts of situations.
Sometimes, your mother would look at your crying baby, and instantly they would know why your baby is crying. A skill like that is developed through experience. So you can develop insight through experience and consistency.
Where there is insight, you’ll find a lot of knowledge and wisdom. You develop insight by acquiring knowledge and turning it into wisdom by rightly making use of that knowledge, then using this wisdom consistently to achieve insight.
You can experience insight all of a sudden. It’s that moment when you feel a lightbulb suddenly coming on in your head. And you can develop insight, by experience, and consistent use of wisdom.
THE KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN KNOWLEDGE, WISDOM, AND INSIGHT
- Knowledge is information and facts you gather through experience and education. Wisdom is when you rightfully apply or use knowledge. While insight is your ability to be so in-tune with something or someone that you can easily know deep and accurate things about them.
- Knowledge is power. Wisdom is deciding to use that power. Insight is developed when you consistently make use of wisdom.
- To gain knowledge, you have to read, listen, see, experience, and get familiar with certain things. To gain wisdom, you first need to have the knowledge and then use the knowledge to arrive at a sound judgment and course of action. To gain insight, you need to have both knowledge and wisdom.
- Knowledge helps you become smarter and more intelligent. Wisdom helps you choose to apply your smartness and intelligence. While insight helps you develop into a more confident
- Knowledge is a surface thing. It’s just a couple of facts that you keep in your memory. It is not a profound thing. Wisdom is what you experience as a result of the knowledge you’ve gained. While insight goes much deeper than that, it resides deep in you. When the lightbulb goes on in your head, you don’t have to calculate before acting on it.
- Anyone can acquire Anyone can become a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, and that would be just about it. But not everyone can acquire wisdom by choosing to do what is right with knowledge. Then even fewer people can be described as being insightful. A person can be wise and still miss out on that deep and intuitive way of understanding situations and people.
KNOWLEDGE, WISDOM, AND INSIGHT IN DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF HUMAN LIFE
There are many aspects to your life as a human being. The physical, mental, emotional, social, work, and spiritual aspects. To balance these different aspects of your life and succeed in each, which do you think is more important? Knowledge? Wisdom? Or Insight?
The truth is you can’t rely on just one to succeed at these different aspects of your life.
You have to make these three concepts work together so you can attain the kind of life you want.
Do you want to live a more healthy life? Do you want to be able to create and sustain good relationships with people? Do you want to be strong mentally? Are you thinking about switching careers or managing two careers at once? Or are you planning to leave the corporate world and start your own business? Are you striving to get to the top and become a reckoning force in the corporate world?
Whatever it is, you need the combination of knowledge, wisdom, and insight to make it all work.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO FURTHER EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN KNOWLEDGE, WISDOM, AND INSIGHT
1. Knowledge: you know that there is a problem, and you know several numbers of ways that this problem can be solved.
Wisdom: you can decide the best way to solve the problem out of all the options that you have.
Insight: you have a more in-depth and better understanding of how either the problem or the solution would affect things. You are aware of whether to go ahead with this solution or not.
2. Knowledge: You are not happy. So you consult books that teach about how to find happiness. Now you know how to make yourself happy, and you have an intellectual understanding of happiness. But you still are not happy.
Wisdom: In one of the books you read, you remember that they said you could find happiness by doing what you love. You do a couple of these things, like traveling or singing or whatever, and it does make you happy.
Insight: You are doing one of the things you love one Saturday evening, and something a switch just flips in you. You suddenly realize that happiness is not an outward thing, after all. You realize that people aren’t responsible for making you happy. More money, isn’t it. It’s all you. And then your life becomes even better. You are now more confident about life due to what you just realized.
3. Knowledge: It seems there is going to be a war. Several options are laid out before you. Which is going to kill the enemy faster? Do you use guns, missiles, or nuclear bombs?
Wisdom: You weigh the options before you. You probably choose the nuclear bombs because its impact is going to be greater than the impact a gun would make—you devise the best strategies to win this war.
Insight: This war would lead to a lot of destruction. Innocent people are going to die. Children will become homeless and orphans. Do we really want to go to war? There is another way to solve this.
Knowledge, wisdom, and insight do not at all mean the same thing.
But you’ll find that if you want to develop into your full potential in all aspects of life, the accumulation of knowledge alone won’t do.
Your ability to use knowledge the right way would put you on that path.
Then insight develops when you consistently make use of knowledge and wisdom.
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