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Knowledge and Sense

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A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Alexander Pope said that 300 years ago and part of what he meant, I think, is a little bit of knowledge often fools people into believing they are experts on a topic long before they actually are.

That still seems to apply, especially now that so much information is available on the internet.

Albert Einstein added his own twist to that idea after he helped develop the atom bomb during World War II.

He said, A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.

In other words, there is a lot more to being intelligent than simply learning information.

I heard a story recently about some other highly educated scientists who spent a week together on holiday in Italy that backs up that idea.

On the second day several of them hit the streets to buy some food for the self-catered villa the group was renting and they came back with what they thought were some pretty good bargains.

What they did was buy fruits and vegetables in bulk – as in crates full – to get a better price on each item.

Unfortunately, what they had forgotten to figure in were the facts that they were only there for a short time and they were going to be eating quite a few meals in restaurants, so most of what they bought went to waste.

Okay, these guys weren’t very domesticated and I’m sure they managed to find women who were happy to look after those kinds of needs.

The point I’m hoping to make though is that while we can sometimes get away without common sense, sometimes we can’t.

But again, that is not a new idea and I think it is expressed rather well through a story that features in 365 Tao, a collection of Chinese meditations that I like to look at from time to time.

It goes something like this:

There were once four very well educated men who felt there abilities were not being put to the best use so they decided to try to get jobs working for the king.

Three of the men were particularly brilliant and the forth was less intellectual but had the most common sense.

On the way to the capital they came upon the skeleton of a lion and the most learned of the group decided it would be a good idea to bring it back to life.

“Yes, this will bring us great fame and help us gain posts with the king,” agreed the second and third.

The forth one said, “If you bring it back to life the lion will be hungry and he will want to eat you.”

“Don’t interrupt,” cried the first who had already put flesh on the bones.

The second quickly introduced blood and the third was about to breath life into the lion.

“We should think of safety,” said the forth.

“Quiet,” said the third as he continued his work.

“Okay,” said the forth, “I think I’ll just go sit in that tree for a while… just in case.”

And of course, the one with common sense was the only one who survived.