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Knowledge Without Context Is The Game of Status

Knowledge Without Context Is The Game of Status

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about education.

Or rather about learning and knowledge as such.

Two concepts that stood out to me were - first - by Naval Ravikant and - second - by Richard Feynman or rather his dad.

The first, Naval’s is a great explanation of what the title of today’s post means.

While in schools we teach children loads of facts that are, more or less unnecessary.

Precisely, unnecessary without context.

History, I would just drop. Introduce them to Google, and give them some nice books to read in their spare time. I know someone is going to get pissed off at that. But, you have finite time. - Naval

We say “you should know this”.

The notion of you should comes from the fact that across all the schools, we’re taught the same facts that become the baseline of what the proper level of knowledge is.

Yet, most of it without context or actual need of usage are useless chunks of names and numbers that can you help in a conversation or where you want to impress your friends.

But then, do you flex your knowledge or simply your ability to memorize things?

On the other hand, there’s a type of knowledge that cannot live without context.

These are all the laws of nature that can be memorized but can’t be understood without context.

You may recite all of the laws of dynamics but if you can’t perform the experiment or show the real-life example, it’s you know the definition but you have no understanding of the context.

I think the problem is we’re over-educated in weird ways and we’re mis-educated. - Naval

The second concept regarding knowledge and learning comes from the book "What Do You Care What Other People Think?"

It’s an amazing read that further explores interesting situations from the life of this brilliant physicist and incredibly amusing person. It also includes his story of being a part of the Challenger’s investigation crew but none about it this time.

In one of the sub-sections called “Birth of the Scientist” (I’m translating directly from the Polish version so sorry if it doesn’t match yours) Feynman talks about how his dad was introducing little Richard to the world.

Instead of feeding him with endless facts like the names of birds, he encouraged him to observe what the bird does, make conclusions regarding what he saw and challenge that view by further observation in different scenarios.

What’s interesting, his father didn’t care about the facts.

He often made up things and names on the go but he knew that being exact isn’t the point. The point was to spark curiosity in a young man who could either get to know the word by names and measurements or could learn how to observe it and make actionable conclusions without having to know the name of what he was looking at.

You see, all the facts and knowledge of this world is a zero-sum game of status if it doesn’t serve a clear purpose. When it doesn’t it will gravitate towards empty words and numbers that no matter how clever they sound their voice will be numb.

Learning without curiosity and self-motivated drive cannot exist.

Memorization can.

Our job is to not mistake one with another.