Knowledge versus Understanding versus Wisdom

Knowledge.  Understanding.  Wisdom.

Which is best to have?  What is the difference between them, anyway?

Knowledge is simple.  It is about facts and information, just observing what they are.

Understanding is a little deeper – it is about realizing what the information (the knowledge) means.

Wisdom is deeper still.  It is like understanding the understanding – how you should react to or feel about the information, now that you understand it.


Knowledge: The government is creating seven new programs this year.

Understanding: Either the government will dip into my pockets now to pay for these new programs, or it will add to the national debt so that many years from now it won’t bother dipping into my pockets – it will just take my pants away.

Wisdom: I should fight the new government programs.  Or, I should live it up while I can, while I still have my pants. Or, I should seek how I can milk these programs to get my money back and earn interest so that one day (when my pants are taken away) I can buy them back.

Which brings me to what inspired this blog post…a quote from Malcolm Gladwell.

Since my brain really only works in the morning, I try to keep that time free for writing and thinking and don’t read any media at all until lunchtime, when I treat myself to The New York Times–the paper edition. At this point, I realize, I am almost a full 24 hours behind the news cycle. Is this is a problem? I have no idea. My brother, who is a teacher, always says that we place too much emphasis on the speed of knowledge acquistion, and not the quality of knowledge acquistion: I guess that means that the fact that I am still on Monday, when everyone else is on Tuesday, is okay.

These days, people rush to get the latest information.  They grab the knowledge.  But do they take the time to understand?  Or even more time to gain wisdom from it?  No, they are on to the next piece of information.

Once upon a time we revered our elders for their wisdom.  Now we tend to mock them for being behind the times.  My parents can’t use computers or any of the new-fangled gadgets.  They don’t have the information-overload that so impresses us in today’s “whiz kids”.

But is knowledge alone worth very much?  I think most people will agree that there is a hierarchy where wisdom is at the top, then understanding and finally knowledge (OK, finally would be ignorance).  But how important is it to seek wisdom, or is knowledge “good enough”?

What do you think?


  1. Thank you for your engaging post.
    I think going up the rank is going farther from the verifiable, farther from the material world.
    Why the hierrachy? It makes me prefer wisdom to knowledge!
    Also I think it is not just an ‘one-way street’ from knowledge to wisdom. Wisdom also affects how you take in knowledge the next time you encounter it.

  2. G.Rama Mohanan Nair says

    In this world of knowledge explosion, it is wasteful to acquire all knowledge. Acquire wisdom only for yr niche area/s. There is no use becoming a jack- of- all trades. Specialise . Aquire knowledge / understanding and wisdom only for that. Then only you can be a successful individual.

  3. Knowledge without wisdom is like a ship without a rudder. It can leave the port, but where does it go?

  4. We can know things but cannot understand. We can also know and understand things at the same time if we do it by heart. In knowing and understanding things heartily, wholeheartedly and genuinely with deeper comprehension and thoughts of their meaning or significance and let that soaked into our minds, whereby we can learn moral lessons from that knowledge and understanding and help us form some positive philosophical view and perspective that we can apply to our own lives, and impart them to others, then that’s where and when Wisdom is developed. (I hope I don’t sound too vague). Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom connect with one another. A good example for trio-logical philosophy. A recipe for acquired Intelligence as not everyone is born with it. This is good mental stimulant.

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